The advantage was obvious, and so was the result.
No. 8 Gonzaga used its superior size and strength inside to work over North Dakota to the tune of 64 paint points, fueling a 97-66 victory in front of 6,000 Tuesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Sophomore forward Filip Petrusev had a career high with 25 points in Gonzaga’s rout over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday. He set career bests with 15 rebounds and four blocks against the Fighting Hawks.
Petrusev is a natural scorer at the offensive end, but he gets daily reminders from the coaching staff about working on his defense and rebounding. The message hit home as Petrusev grabbed seven boards in the first half, bettering his personal high of six. He also provided rim protection against a UND offense that repeatedly tried to get to ball inside.
“I was just going for it every time, just trying to make a move, get around my opponent and go get it,” Petrusev said of his rebounding. “That’s one of the things coaches have been on me about, especially after the first two games when I had five or six, which is not enough.”
The Zags turned to their half-court offense, particularly their trio of bigs, because one steady source of offense in their first two games and an exhibition matchup – converting turnovers into transition points – was scarce. North Dakota (1-1) turned the ball over just six times.
Petrusev (19 points), Drew Timme (16) and Anton Watson (15) combined to make 23 of 35 field-goal attempts.
“I was really impressed with how they have a sense of purpose going inside,” first-year North Dakota coach Paul Sather said. “They really want to beat you inside-out and I love that style of basketball.”
The Fighting Hawks chose to play behind the post in the first half and Petrusev put up 13 points in roughly 11 minutes. UND tried doubling Petrusev in the second half and he fired two passes to Watson for easy buckets underneath, sandwiched around Ryan Woolridge’s feed to Watson for a dunk.
Gonzaga outrebounded UND 53-29 and scored 22 points off 13 offensive boards.
“Obviously, we feel like it’s going to be one of our strengths, and when we get Killian (Tillie) back (from knee surgery) it’ll become that much better,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “The guys have been delivering. They’re pretty darn efficient and playing well together with the high-low game.
“And the perimeters have done a good job with post feeds and finding them at the end of the screen and roll.”
The perimeters did their share as wing Corey Kispert hit three 3-pointers, scored 20 points and had five assists. Admon Gilder chipped in 10 points and three assists and Woolridge added four assists and eight boards.
“It was automatic buckets, automatic assists,” Woolridge said of throwing the ball inside. “It was a good night for Filip, Drew and Anton.”
The Zags (3-0), who had to rally for an overtime win against North Dakota two years ago, maintained a comfortable margin most of the way. They led by double figures after just 4 minutes, but they lost defensive focus and Fighting Hawks point guard Marlon Stewart made the pay.
Stewart did a good impression of Geno Crandall, who scored 28 points in UND’s near upset in 2017 before joining the Zags the following season as a grad transfer. Stewart drove around defenders and finished at the rim, scoring 15 points in the first half.
The second half was a different story as Woolridge did a better job of containing Stewart and Gonzaga bigs were there to help when Stewart did penetrate. Stewart settled for two 3-pointers in the closing half and finished with 21 points.
“Just communication. We kept switching the coverages and we messed up a little bit (in the first half),” Woolridge said. “The second half we got it together.”
Watson took an inadvertent elbow from Timme late in the second half and suffered a cut above his right eye that required two stitches. He took an elbow just below the same eye in the first half, so he’ll probably be sporting a black eye for Friday’s road game at Texas A&M.