Gonzaga men’s basketball claimed it’s 16th straight victory on Thursday after knocking down the Pepperdine Waves at home 95-70.
Originally scheduled for a 2 p.m. tip-off time, the game was moved to the primetime 6 p.m. PST slot after Oregon vs. Arizona St. was put off because of COVID-19 issues.
The first two minutes went by without a score by either team as Pepperdine displayed stifling defense that kept GU out of a rhythm leading to some shaky offensive possessions early on.
It was Victor Ohia for Pepperdine who got the night’s scoring underway with a fast break dunk which seemed to ignite the Zags as they proceeded to go on a 10-0 run that included two three-pointers from Corey Kispert. The well would be relatively dry for the Zags from three for the remainder of the first half as they would only convert two more from beyond the arc on 12 attempts.
“They were a sticky team which made it hard for us to find open looks especially in the first half,” Corey Kispert said. “But we’re good enough offensively and we got a good enough scheme that we find open shots if we do the right thing on the offensive end.”
Pepperdine was able to reestablish its defensive holding after the Zags early run however, only allowing GU to go on short scoring spurts which is what teams can best hope to do against the naturally explosive GU offense. The Waves were also able to find some more offensive consistency while slowing down the Bulldogs, battling back to only being down 19-17 half way through the first. Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Drew Timme were the only Zags responsible for scoring in the first 12 minutes, and Pepperdine took advantage of GU’s limited scoring to bring the game within one twice after a Robbie Heath jumper and Colby Ross converting two at the line.
A Sedrick Altman jump shot from the elbow gave the Waves their second lead of the game at 26-25, very much aided by the squad’s 16 points off the bench up to that point compared to the zero had by GU’s platoon.
Jalen Suggs was quick to follow Altman’s jumper with an and-one score of his own 14 seconds later, snagged a steal on Pepperdine’s next possession and finished at the rim in transition to reclaim a 30-26 lead for GU.
The Zags posted a 13-4 run that gave them their first double digit lead of the night 18 minutes in, but were unable to run away with the game from there as Pepperdine battled back quickly thanks to a pair of consecutive threes from Kessler Edwards, the Waves second leading scorer on the year.
“Pepperdine has done a good job with us these last couple of years; they have good talent, they’ve got good quickness, athleticism and two really good players in Kessler Edwards and Colby Ross,” Head Coach Mark Few said. “I thought early in the first half, we did a nice job defending and then we kind of lost our way, and we just played really sloppy offensively trying to make something happen on the first action or the first side, and then we gave up a couple of threes there at the end.”
On the Zags last possession of the first 20 minutes, unorganized play led to a shot clock violation and gave Pepperdine the ball with three seconds left. Darryl Polk drove up the court quickly for the Waves and knocked down a running three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to send the teams into the half with GU ahead 43-39.
Interlocked in the closest WCC matchup the team has had through 20 minutes this season, GU was looking to make some adjustments in an effort to pull away down the stretch. Kispert got it started with a converted baseline three from a Suggs feed. Kispert went 3-5 from beyond the arc in the second half and finished with a game high 23 points.
The Zags hit a short lull for about three minutes following the quick surge to get the half started, with the team held scoreless by Pepperdine and also committing five fouls over that span, one of which sidelined Andrew Nembhard for a substantial period of time given that it was his fourth foul on the night.
After Suggs also picked up his third foul, grad transfer Aaron Cook stepped in and stepped up defensively for GU, as he locked down his assignment in Colby Ross, who is first in the WCC in assists and second in PPG. Ross finished with 9 points on 3-10 shooting, and the Waves overall struggled to shoot the ball in the second half with a field goal conversion rate of 31% after hitting half of their shots in the first.
“In the second half I thought we defended really well,” Few said. “We got some great effort from Anton Watson defensively and on the glass with ten rebounds, and Aaron Cook came in when we were in some serious foul trouble and steadied us on the defensive end doing a really nice job, and we were able to get our offense going.”
Drew Timme, who faced his own struggles in the post early, was finding moves down low that were yielding better results for him against the lengthy and stringent Waves defense. Finishing the game with 20 points and seven boards, Timme converted on two consecutive and-one plays with 13 minutes left to play that helped the Zags once again see a double digit lead at 59-48.
A few plays later, it was Suggs creating for himself with a slick behind the back move while charging towards the rim which granted him an easy score and GU its largest lead of the night at 15.
The Zags kept pushing on from there with a deep three from Ayayi giving him 19 points on the night and GU a 70-50 lead. While the Waves got back into a moderate scoring groove with seven minutes left to play, the Zags stayed handedly in control thanks to a series of plays by Suggs where both times he split the defense using a screen and his quickness to get to the hoop. After converting a layup on the first play, he dished out to a wide open Kispert the second time he got in the paint, and Kispert knocked down the baseline three.
Suggs finished with 18 points, 3 assists and 4 turnovers on the night.
“Jaylen is super unselfish and I was really proud of the way that he played today,” Kispert said. “He had a rough go of it in the first half, with some foul trouble and turning the ball over a little bit. But he kept his cool in the second and played a really mature game so he’s growing in front of my eyes and he picked his spots and made his reads which is really impressive.”
Chene Chukwaka for Pepperdine caught heat from three late and made three straight from beyond the arc, but Suggs, Kispert and Timme all responded with scores of their own to maintain a 92-66 lead.
With just under two minutes left in the contest, Few subbed out most of his starters and let the clock ride out to a 25 point victory. Thursday’s victory was GU’s 40th consecutive against Pepperdine, and the Zags will visit Saint Mary’s on Saturday to face Saint Mary’s on ESPN at 7 p.m.