Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi drives to the basket in the Bulldog's 87-82 win against West Virginia at the 2020 Jimmy V Classic in Indianapolis, IN.

The No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the No.11 ranked West Virginia Mountaineers 87-82 at the Jimmy V Classic in Indianapolis, IN.

Last time the two teams matched up, the Bulldogs defeated the Mountaineers in the 2017 NCAA tournament in San Jose, California. In the West Regional Final, then GU guard Jordan Matthews gave the Bulldogs the lead late in the game with a go-ahead three pointer, and with a defensive stop on the final possession of the game, the Zags were off to the Elite Eight. The Zags would eventually lose to North Carolina in the 2017 national championship game.

“[We were] glad to play a high level opponent,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “That’s a team that can win the Big 12.”

Heading into Wednesday afternoon’s matchup, the Bulldogs came off a convincing 90-67 win against Auburn at the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off in Fort Myers, FL. Sophomore forward Drew Timme finished with a career high 28 points, complementing his career point performance with 10 rebounds. Freshman guard Jalen Suggs finished the game with 12 points and six assists, while senior forward Corey Kispert had 25 points on nine of 14 shooting from the field and four of eight from behind the three point arc.

The Mountaineers started its season with a 3-0 record, winning all three games in the 2020 Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, SD. Guard Miles McBride was averaging 16.3 points heading into the matchup, accompanied by three other Mountaineer double digit scorers (Derek Culver with 15.0 points, Sean McNeil with 13.7 points and Taz Sherman with 11.7 points).

The Zags got off to a sluggish start to the game, falling behind 9-6 after the first media timeout. After the Mountaineers reaching an 17-11 lead, Timme cut WVU’s lead to two points after a previous GU layup. Soon after, Kispert would respond with a three point play, giving the Zags a 18-17 lead.

After the media timeout at the eight minute mark, Suggs was driving for a layup when he slipped and went down on the play. Suggs grabbed the back of his ankle in the Achilles area, needing assistance from the medical staff getting off the court. Suggs looked visibly in pain and was able to put light pressure on his left foot. Suggs would eventually reenter the game in the second half.

“I didn’t want him to play but he was pretty convincing,” Few said. “He was limping around on the first up and down and I told him if he kept limping I was going to pull him out. He quit limping [and] made some really nice winning plays.”

The Mountaineers would increase its lead to nine with around four minutes left in the half. A mini scoring frenzy from guard Andrew Nembhard cut the WVU lead to five, but the Mountaineers completed the half with a 5-4 run, giving itself a 39-34 lead heading into halftime.

At the end of the half, WVU outrebounded GU 24-19 and were led by the scoring of McBride and Tshiebwe with 10 each, Ayayi finished the half with nine points, and Timme struggled from the field, shooting 1 of 9 from the field, resulting in three points for Timme in the first half.

The Zags got off to a strong start in the second half, cutting the lead to a single possession multiple times. The Zags would eventually take the lead with a Timme three point play, giving the Zags a 47-45 lead.

After more back and forth play from both teams, the Zags pulled away with a seven point lead after a Timme layup. Timme bounced back in the second half, finishing with 17 points on 7-17 from shooting. Ayayi led the Zags with 21 points, followed by 19 points from Kispert.

Nembhard had his best game of the season, finishing with 19 points, six assists and five rebounds. Filling in for the injured Suggs, Nembhard said he was ready and prepared for this role. 

“I just tried to be who I am,” Nembhard said. “I felt very comfortable stepping up into that role… I know my teammates and coaches have a lot of confidence in me in that position.”

The No. 1 ranked Bulldogs face the No. 2 ranked Baylor Bears Saturday morning at 10 A.M. in Indianapolis on CBS.

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

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