SPOKANE, Wash. — The 3-point shooting of Utah State gave No. 17 Gonzaga fits in the first half on Saturday night.
The Aggies threw a scare into Gonzaga before the Bulldogs woke up in the second half and rolled to a 79-66 victory.
“We were punched in the mouth a couple of times,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We responded in a positive way.”
Killian Tillie scored 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Bulldogs. Corey Kispert and Silas Melson each scored 12 points for Gonzaga (3-0), which lost to North Carolina in the NCAA title game last season. Josh Perkins added 11 points.
“Corey Kispert got us going with tough, physical plays,” Few said of the freshman who added nine rebounds. Kispert is the first true freshman in several years to start at Gonzaga.
Sam Merrill scored 19 points for Utah State (2-2), which shot 39 percent in the game. DeAngelo Isby added 13 and Diogo Brito scored 11.
The Aggies played without guard Koby McEwen, a preseason all-Mountain West selection, because of an ankle injury.
“I was proud of them tonight,” Utah State coach Tim Duryea said of his team. “They handled the environment and the quality of the opponent.
“They did a terrific job through halftime and gave themselves a chance in the second half,” Duryea said.
Utah State made five 3-pointers, three by Merrill, to take an early 17-11 lead.
Gonzaga went on a 9-1 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Zach Norvell Jr., to take a 20-18 lead.
The Aggies went ahead 39-31 with 5:22 left in the first, but did not make another field goal in the half. Gonzaga outscored them 14-3 to take a 45-42 lead at halftime.
The Aggies made 8 of 17 3-point attempts in the first half.
“We knew they wanted to shoot the 3,” Few said. “We didn’t do a great job of getting out there.
“We had real rebounding issues at the half,” Few added. “We adjusted those and did better in the second half.”
After scoring 42 points in the first half, Utah State scored only 24 in the second.
Gonzaga pushed its lead to 60-52 with 12 minutes left in the game, as Utah State’s shooting woes continued.
Five straight points by Merrill brought the Aggies within three. But the Zags went on a 17-0 run to push their lead to 77-57, their largest of the game. Utah State was scoreless for nearly 6 minutes and made only two field goals in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“We were right there for 30 minutes and I think we’ll take this as a learning opportunity,” Merrill said. “It should help us going forward.”
Gonzaga has held 59 consecutive opponents under 50 percent shooting from the field.
LONG TIME NO SEE
This is the sixth meeting of the programs, but the first since 1970.
Utah State: The Aggies were playing the first of five straight road games, and are picked to finish eighth in the Mountain West despite returning four starters. They rely heavily on 3-point shooting, but will need to do better than they did tonight to win many games.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs came in averaging 101.5 points per game after two easy wins against low-profile opponents, and have six players averaging double figures.
Utah State plays at Portland State on Monday.
Gonzaga plays Ohio State in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Oregon, on Thursday. The PK80 features some of the nation’s top teams and should give the Zags a better idea of their talent level this year. “It’s a big, big, big time deal for our program and our fans,” Few said. “We are going to have to be better than we were tonight.”