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Petrusev leads No. 8 Gonzaga over North Dakota 97-66

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Filip Petrusev had 19 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots as No. 8 Gonzaga beat North Dakota 97-66 on Tuesday.

Corey Kispert scored 20 points and Anton Watson added 15 for Gonzaga (3-0), which has romped to victory in all three games. Six Bulldogs scored in double figures.

The Zags have won all six meetings with the Fighting Hawks.

Marlon Stewart scored 21 points and Filip Rebraca had 16 points and 13 rebounds for North Dakota (1-1), which took Gonzaga to overtime before losing here in 2017.

No such thriller this time, as Gonzaga held the Fighting Hawks to 34.7% shooting and outrebounded them 53-29.

Gonzaga jumped to a 15-2 lead as North Dakota missed eight of its first nine shots.

Kispert and Admon Gilder each hit 3-pointers as Gonzaga built a 25-9 lead.

North Dakota found its shooting touch and consecutive 3-pointers by Stewart cut Gonzaga’s lead to 30-21.

The Bulldogs replied with a 14-1 run.

Gonzaga led 55-36 at halftime, after holding the Fighting Hawks to 35% shooting and outrebounding them 28-14 in the first.

Gonzaga pushed the lead to 65-40 midway through the second, behind three consecutive baskets by Watson.

BIG PICTURE

North Dakota: Freshman De’Sean Allen-Eikens scored 22 points in a season-opening win over Crown, but was held in check Tuesday. North Dakota has never beaten a ranked team since joining Division I in 2008. North Dakota has 11 returning letter winners, including four who started at least 16 games last season.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs came in shooting 60% from the field, second in the nation. They average 102.5 points per game. They have six freshmen on their roster and one returning starter in Kispert. Gonzaga’s 165 wins in the past five seasons are tops in Division I.

UP NEXT

North Dakota plays at Valparaiso on Sunday.

Gonzaga faces its toughest test of the young season at Texas A&M on Friday.

Kispert leads No. 8 Gonzaga over Alabama State 95-64

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Corey Kispert is the only returning starter for No. 8 Gonzaga from last year’s Elite Eight team, and he knows many of his young teammates are looking for leadership.

He provided it Tuesday.

Kispert scored a career-high 28 points as Gonzaga used a second-half surge to beat Alabama State 95-64 in the season opener for both teams.

“Setting the tone for the team is kind of what I am trying to do,” Kispert said after making 10 of his 13 shots, including five from 3-point range.

“I was in rhythm, not thinking too much,” Kispert said. “I let it come to me. That’s when the best things happen.”

Kispert knows he has to take a leadership role on a team that lost four starters to the NBA.

He said he learned how to be a leader from former teammates Johnathan Williams two years ago and Josh Perkins last year.

“I played with guys who did it well,” Kispert said.

Filip Petrusev added 15 points, Admon Gilder scored 12 and Ryan Woolridge had 11 for depleted Gonzaga, which is down to nine scholarship players. The Bulldogs have won 16 consecutive season openers dating to 2003.

Jacoby Ross scored 16 points and Brandon Battle had 10 for Alabama State in the first meeting between the teams.

Gonzaga led 42-30 at halftime behind 13 points from Kispert. Alabama State was hampered by 12 turnovers in the first half that led to 14 Gonzaga points. Gonzaga had just three turnovers in the first.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Ross allowed the Hornets to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 50-41 early in the second.

“It was a complete breakdown in our coverage,” Kispert said. “We’ve got to tighten up.”

Gonzaga replied with 15 straight points, while holding Alabama State scoreless for nearly six minutes, to take a 65-41 lead and was not threatened again. Kispert had nine points in that run.

Alabama State coach Lewis Jackson said the 24 fouls called on his team were a big problem.

“We wanted to come out aggressively on defense, but we picked up too many fouls,” Jackson said. “They got too many points off the free-throw line.”

Gonzaga sank 17 free throws, to just seven for the Hornets.

“Jacoby played really well,” Jackson said. “He was aggressive on defense and played with a lot of poise.”

SHORT-HANDED ZAGS

Forward Killian Tillie is still recovering from knee surgery and did not play, while freshman guard Brock Ravet, who was expected to contribute, has temporarily left the team for personal reasons. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Tillie is the team’s most experienced player, despite missing much of last season with various injuries. “It’s frustrating for him,” Few said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back.”

TURNOVER TROUBLE

Alabama State was plagued by 21 turnovers that led to 29 Gonzaga points. The Zags committed just eight turnovers.

STATS

Gonzaga won the rebounding battle 34-25 and shot 57.6% to 49% for the Hornets.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama State: The Hornets are starting the season with 15 consecutive road games. They do not play at home until January. Jackson is seeking his 200th career victory.

Gonzaga: The Zags are picked to win an eighth consecutive West Coast Conference regular-season title. They have averaged 33 wins per season since 2014-15, tops in the nation.

UP NEXT

Alabama State plays at Missouri State on Sunday.

Gonzaga hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday.

Killian Tillie returning to Gonzaga

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Gonzaga is getting back some frontcourt experience for next season as junior forward Killian Tillie is reportedly heading back to school.

According to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, the 6-foot-10 Killie is returning for his senior season following an injury-riddled junior season that only saw him play 15 games. With Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura playing so well during the season, Tillie was relegated to coming off the bench as a role player in limited minutes during the season.

Tillie put up 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in only 16.6 minutes per game, a far cry from a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him average 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

If Tillie is fully healthy, then he’s a potential all-conference player for the Zags as his offensive skill level is high and he’s a solid rebounder. But Tillie hasn’t looked the same while trying to play through the ankle and foot injuries that limited him last season. With Tillie also spraining an ankle during NBA draft workouts and dropping out of the combine, this could be the right decision since he hasn’t been healthy in a year.

Mahershala Ali’s hoops career at Saint Mary’s back in spotlight after second Oscar win

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Mahershala Ali captured his second Oscar on Sunday night as he’s quickly becoming one of the most respected actors in America. Winning Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book, Ali earned his second Academy Award, after previously winning Best Actor for his role in Moonlight two years ago.

But before Ali became a movie star, he was a Division I scholarship basketball player at Saint Mary’s. Playing four seasons and appearing in 97 games under his given name of Hershal Gilmore — mostly as a role player — Ali’s basketball past has started to make the rounds online over the last several days.

While some are clamoring for Ali to take part in a basketball-related role, the 45-year-old actor has stuck with dramatic roles not involving sports during his Hollywood ascension the last several years. Now that LeBron James and Space Jam II is being made, however, maybe The King needs Ali by his side as a worthy sidekick.

In the original Space Jam, Michael Jordan called on Bill Murray to help beat the Monstars. And Ali is a superior hooper who also now owns two Oscars. It’s unlikely, but it would be fun to see James and Ali share the court and the screen together.

Gonzaga guard Geno Crandall out 4-6 weeks

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Gonzaga will be without reserve guard Geno Crandall for the next four-to-six weeks with a fracture in his right hand.

According to a report from Jim Meehan of the Spokesman-Review, Crandall suffered the injury in his hand during Sunday’s practice. The 6-foot-3 Crandall is a graduate transfer from North Dakota who was supposed to help take some minutes from senior starter Josh Perkins.

Crandall has averaged 18.2 minutes per game so far this season, as he’s putting up 5.0 points, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Although Crandall had a positive game against Texas A&M with 13 points in 23 minutes, he has struggled in other games to find his scoring touch. A double-figure scorer his first three seasons in college, Crandall is only shooting 30 percent from the field to start the season.

While this injury won’t significantly damage No. 1 Gonzaga, this will impact Perkins and the amount of minutes he could log. We could see the Zags experiment with some unique options at lead guard. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, they’re about to embark on a difficult four-game stretch that includes games against Washington, Creighton, No. 6 Tennessee and No. 11 North Carolina in the next three weeks.

As long as Gonzaga is able to ride their veteran starters for extended minutes, Crandall’s injury should be something they can withstand for a short period of time.

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura has strong showing for Japan in FIBA upset over Australia

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Gonzaga junior forward Rui Hachimura started to show signs of his vast potential during Japan’s recent appearance in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers.

The 6-foot-8 Hachimura dropped 24 points and seven rebounds in an impressive win for Japan over Australia as he showed a full scoring package and an improved perimeter jumper. After only shooting 19 percent from three-point range as a sophomore last season, Hachimura was 2-for-3 from distance (10-for-18 field goals) in the upset over Australia.

Beginning to display his talents in 20.7 minutes per game last season for the Bulldogs, Hachimura is expected to make a significant jump his junior season as he’ll be counted on to be more of a go-to player for Gonzaga. Hachimura finding his offense at multiple levels and going against NBA players like Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker is a positive sign in his development for next season.

Gonzaga is currently the No. 2 team in the NBCSports.com preseason poll as Hachimura’s development will be a big part of this team living up to the preseason hype. With a full lineup of experienced players returning, including point guard Josh Perkins, wings Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert, and a frontcourt of Hachimura and Killian Tillie, the Bulldogs have the talent to make major moves in college hoops next season.