Gonzaga men’s basketball notched win No. 2 on the season Friday morning as they took down the Auburn Tigers 90-67 in their last game of the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off.
Before the game, it was announced that two GU players would be out for the matchup because of COVID-19 isolation protocols in place which forced the two players to self-isolate as they waited on tests. Julian Strawther and Dominick Harris were not present with the team during the contest, and GU head coach Mark Few confirmed after the game that one player in the program had tested positive, but he did not name a player.
“We’re taking PCR tests which are the gold standard tests, then we have to react to whatever happens after the test and it’s going to be like that all year,” Few said.
The Zags seemed to have reacted well as they appeared undeterred by ulterior matters and managed to handedly secure the 23 point victory.
Corey Kispert opened up the day’s scoring with the first 5 points of the contest off a layup and an and-one drive to the rim, which Auburn followed up on with two made 3-pointers to give the Tigers an early 6-5 lead.
That would be the only time for the remainder of the contest that Auburn would be in control as the Zags went on an 11-0 scoring run to reassert their lead and hold it.
Drew Timme also got involved early on, converting on an and-one attempt to get his stat sheet started, finding Kispert open on the wing for a 3 ball, taking a charge to force Auburn’s first of 17 turnovers on the night and then knocking down his only attempted 3 of the night to bring the score to 19-12 after the Tigers came back with two more made 3s of their own.
Timme ended the night with 28 points and 10 rebounds, his first double-double of the season and a career high in points as well after beating his 25-point effort from Thursday against Kansas.
“We have not looked especially good on our rebounding, so we challenged the guys and to their credit, they really stepped up and did a nice job walking out as a team and handling the team rebounding,” Few said. “I challenged Drew to get a double-double and he was able to sneak one in there right at the end.”
The Zags continued to keep up the pace in rebounding and in scoring as the first half progressed, taking their largest lead of the half of 17 points after a Timme turn-around jump shot at the baseline with 7:35 left to play. Jaylen Suggs finessed two steals just past half court within the first 12 minutes of the game that led to scores at the rim for him both times as he narrowly avoided defenders trying to take a charge.
Auburn was able to reel the score back to 37-27 after going on a 7-0 run, led by junior guard Jamal Johnson who got off to an early start for the Tigers with 6 points in the first ten minutes. Auburn was able to keep the game within close reach throughout the first half as it shot 44.8% from the field and converted six of its 14 3-point attempts, but 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes alone gave way to 16 GU points off of those turnovers.
Auburn was also guilty of committing 12 first half fouls, turning into nine points for GU at the line which helped see the Zags close out the first half up 49-35.
The onset of the second half is where the Tigers’ scoring began to fall off while the Zags’ offense found another gear. Opening up the half with three straight scoring possessions, including a 3 from Kispert and a clean fast-break score by Anton Watson after Joel Ayayi found him open in the paint, the Zags would go up by 21.
“I really like when we’re in constant movement, but all of these guys can really pass and space the floor too,” Few said. “When we don’t get too hung up on either the first side that the ball is on or our first action, we can kind of pop it around and then find maybe Drew, somebody cutting or a ball screen and that’s when we’re at our best.”
Sophomore guard Allen Flanigen for Auburn tried to keep his team in the game by knocking down consecutive 3 balls, part of his 20-point and five-rebound performance on the day.
On Auburn’s next possession, Suggs managed to get into the passing lane to deflect a pass that Kispert stole before dishing it to Ayayi, who found an open Suggs flying across the baseline. Ayayi tossed up the lob from beyond the arc and Suggs put it down to bring the score to 47-69.
“These dudes like Jalen and Joel are All-Americans and they literally can get a bucket anytime they want,” Timme said. “It’s a pressure relief for me and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone.”
The Zags would continue to increase their lead to 30 from there, aided by a handful of Kispert scores and offensive rebounds, with Kispert finishing the night with 25 points on 4-8 from 3.
Auburn couldn’t keep up with the Zags scoring outburst, as the Tigers shot 9-30 from the field in the second half and converted 22% of their second half 3s. This didn’t help the fact that the Tigers were also being outperformed in the paint, scoring 16 points in that arena throughout the contest compared with the 52 points that the Zags found there.
“We execute the offense and we’re really moving the ball and not getting stagnant with it,” Timme said. “We feel like we can score almost every time and as long as we play our way and do what the coaches have been coaching us on, we can score on anybody.”
In the final two minutes, Few subbed in his swath of bench players to soak up some experience, and the Zags ran the clock out to a final score of 90-67. The Zags officially owned the Fort this year at the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off and anticipate their Dec. 2 matchup against No. 15 West Virginia in Indianapolis.