GU's ability to put up 51 first half points to Saint Mary's 24 helped set the pace for the rest of the matchup.

The Gonzaga men’s basketball team (21-0, 12-0) defeated/lost to the Saint Mary’s Gaels (11-7, 2-5) 87-65 Thursday night in the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Prior to the contest with the Gaels, the Zags added two more games to the schedule for next week. On Feb. 25 and Feb. 27, the Santa Clara Broncos and the Loyola Marymount University Lions respectively will make their way to Spokane to play the Zags after COVID-19 protocols withheld the Broncos and Lions from competing in conference play. 

Heading into the matchup between the No. 1 ranked team in the country and the No. 8 ranked team in the conference, the Zags were coming off a 100-61 victory against the University of San Francisco Dons in the city by the Bay. Sophomore forward Drew Timme led the way for the Bulldogs, scoring 28 points and paving the way to give GU its 24th consecutive 20-win season. Thursday night was the first game in The Kennel where limited fan attendance was permitted, with parents of the players coming to watch the game.

The Gaels are coming off a 60-58 defeat to the University of Pepperdine, where junior forward Matthias Tass led the Gaels in scoring with 17 points and seven rebounds.

To start out the half, the Zags opened up the game scoring 10 of its first 13 points in the paint. The Zags would continue that hot start for the remainder of the half, with redshirt junior guard Joel Ayayi leading the way. Ayayi converted three triples in the first half, leading all Zags in scoring with 11 points. 

Along with the contributions from Ayayi, defense was another part of the story for the Zags in the first half. The top-ranked team in the country created 12 turnovers against the Gaels and scored 14 points off of those turnovers. Senior forward Corey Kispert led the Zags in scoring in the first have with 14 points. The Zags shot 61% from the field and 56% from behind the arc compared to the 36% and 9% respectively from the Gaels.

“I think we’re doing a good job executing our plan and mixing and matching our ball-screen coverages,” GU head coach Mark Few said.

The Zags picked up right where they left off in the first half, starting the second half with an and-one from transfer guard Andrew Nembhard. The Zags increased its lead to 37 within the first five minutes of the first half after an Ayay dunk from a beautiful assist from Nembhard. At that point in the game, the Zags had four double-digit scorers, with Kispert leading the way and followed by Ayayi, Timme and Nembhard. 

Continuing its domination on both sides of the floor, the Zags continued to play team basketball throughout the second half. With around 12 minutes left in the contest, the Zags were out-assisting the Gaels 13-5. Nembhard and star freshman Jalen Suggs each had five assists a pop, combining for 10 percent of those assists. 

With three minutes left in the half, Few put in the substitutes to finish out the game. Junior guard Matthew Lang put the cherry on top of the sundae victory with a three pointer, giving the Bulldogs a 87-65 victory.

Kispert led all scorers for the Zags with 20 points while converting only one three-point attempt. The Zags finished with four double-digit scorers, with Kispert leading the way, followed up by Ayayi with 16, Timme with 12 and Nembhard with 10. The Zags finished the night shooting 61.1% from the field, 57.1% from three and 76.5% from the free throw line.

Saint Mary’s had four double-digit scorers of their own. For the Gaels, Judah Brown led SMC scorers with 16 points, followed by 13 points from Logan Johnson, 12 points from Tass and 10 points from Mitchell Saxen. The Gaels shot 45.5% from the field, 30% from behind the arc and 90% from the free throw line.

“We took it upon ourselves to hone in [defense]... and it’s shown over the past two weeks,” Kispert said.

The Zags look to continue its winning ways Saturday night in The Kennel against the University of San Diego Toreros. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2 at 5 p.m., and Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham will have the call. 

Vinny Saglimbeni is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @vinnysaglimbeni.

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