SPOKANE — Well, at least it didn’t keep too many people up late in the East.
Starting ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, Gonzaga ended the suspense early against West Virginia here Monday night, blowing to a 27-point halftime lead and throttling the Mountaineers 84-50.
“It was a great performance by our guys,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “I was worried that, especially being down a man inside (with a three-game suspension to 7-foot Kelly Olynyk) that we might get exploited on the glass. Our guys fought and battled. That’s a really physical, athletic team.
“And our guards handled the ball against a team that pressures you all over the floor.”
Gary Bell, the sophomore from Kentridge High, led all scorers with 15 points, but he had a lot of help with four others in double figures, including forward Guy Landry Edi, who had 14 points and seven rebounds.
“Loved it,” Few said of Bell’s game. “That’s the best he’s played all fall, I thought, from a toughness point of view, and he hit some big shots.”
West Virginia, picked for sixth place in its first year in the Big 12, shot only 27.3 percent as the 19th-ranked Zags (2-0) played both man and zone defenses effectively. The Mountaineers were 3 of 26 from beyond the arc, while Gonzaga shot 52 percent and 9 of 16 from deep.
“We just played really good defense,” said Bell. “The zone kind of hurt them, and the switching up, off and on, press, no press.”
It was West Virginia’s first game of the year, and it looked a lot like its last one last spring. That was in the second round of the NCAA tournament back in Pittsburgh, when Gonzaga dispatched the Mountaineers 77-54 in a game in which WVU didn’t string four consecutive points together until the final four minutes.
“We heard their coach (Bob Huggins) played that tape every day, all summer,” said Edi.
This was a so-called “play-in” game for the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving weekend in Orlando, although both teams get there anyway. Believe it or not, they could meet again if each reaches the final, but organizers and TV moguls are no doubt praying otherwise.
Since that meeting last March, Huggins has added a couple of transfers in guard Juwan Staten (Dayton) and big guy Aaric Murray (LaSalle) after losing All-American forward Kevin Jones.
Not a lot changed. Murray snaked inside to give West Virginia a 2-1 lead, and then the balky WVU offense went south completely, committing seven turnovers and missing six consecutive shots as Gonzaga pieced together a 16-0 run.
Early, the Zags didn’t get much done inside, but they loosened up the visitors’ man-to-man defense by raining threes. By the second television timeout, Kevin Pangos had hit two and Bell and Mike Hart one apiece — all from the left corner, right in front of Huggins and his bench, and soon, Gonzaga had a 17-2 lead.
After that, West Virginia never was closer than 11. Sparked in the latter stages of the first half by Bell, the Zags kept piling it on. His kiss off the glass from the left of the key, following by a trey from the deep right, prompted Huggins’ timeout at the 4:44 mark, and Gonzaga led, 34-12.
“Early in the game, I was trying to force it a little,” said Bell. “I had to let the game come to me.”
A minute later, Bell flicked an entry pass to the freshman big guy, Przemek Karnowski, and Karnowski, a deft passer, bounced it to Sam Dower for a layup. An 18-6 surge by Gonzaga closed the half, and the 18 by WVU was fewest in a half by a Gonzaga opponent since February 2011.
Not a lot changed in the second half, and the game didn’t end until 11:22 p.m., or, in the East, well past when a sane person would be watching.
When Gonzaga did it to West Virginia eight months ago, Huggins said, “We’ve never gotten beat like that. We were never in the game.”
He must have left town with the same sort of feeling.