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Newest Zags work through nerves, contribute to Gonzaga’s exhibition win

The nerves were going to be there under normal circumstances.

Add in a two-year absence from playing in a game and returning from a torn ACL. Or add in a nine-month break from playing in a game and returning from surgery on a broken bone in your foot. And you’re in the starting lineup.

Gonzaga center Jacob Larsen’s last game experience came on a club team in his native Denmark in 2015. He redshirted at GU last season after suffering a knee injury in preseason drills.

“It was great being back on the floor, playing basketball against another team, playing in a real game with referees and playing with these guys in here,” Larsen said inside Gonzaga’s new locker room following Saturday’s 96-67 win over College of Idaho in an exhibition game.

“Nerves up until the game were quite a lot, but once I got on the court I kind of zoned in and paid attention to the game and not everything else.”

Corey Kispert’s senior season at King’s High near Seattle was cut short by a broken bone in his right foot. He had surgery in February and has been impressive in preseason drills, earning a spot in the starting five against the Coyotes.

“My brain was a mess,” Kispert said, “but after I got that first bucket the tunnel vision came in and we were able to focus on what we needed to do.”

Larsen finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes. Kispert had 10 points, three boards and three assists in a team-high 30 minutes. True freshman guard Joel Ayayi didn’t attempt a shot in nine minutes.

Redshirt freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr., who played in last year’s exhibition rout over West Georgia, was in early foul trouble but he hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points in 18 minutes.

With freshman Jesse Wade (shoulder) and junior Jeremy Jones (wrist/forearm) sidelined, the Zags need minutes and production throughout their roster, regardless of experience level. The competition ratchets up with the season opener against Texas Southern on Friday and potential matchups versus ranked opponents later this month.

Kispert’s first basket took a while. He said the ball felt great leaving his hands but he misfired on shot after shot. Most were open looks. Well, there was an ill-fated attempt in a one-on-three situation late in the first half. Coach Mark Few raised his arms up in a gesture that basically asked, ‘Why?’

Kispert missed his sixth shot – five of those 3-pointers – but the ball found its way back to him and he let fly again. When it settled into the net, Kispert seemed to settle into playing his game.

A few plays later, he turned down a 3-pointer and fed Killian Tillie for an easy bucket inside. Kispert closed the half with a three-point play created by driving from the wing.

“He has a nice drive game and can really finish. He was settling a little bit early, but he shot the heck out of it in the scrimmage (against Texas A&M),” coach Mark Few said. “One of his strengths is he’s comfortable enough to miss a couple and keep shooting.”

Larsen made 4 of 6 shots and went to the free-throw line a team-high seven times, making four.

“He did a good job catching those (entry) passes. Those were tough catches in small windows,” Few said. “He’s coming along. He’s got some strides he needs to make defensively. He needs to protect the rim better and be a little more athletic.”

The Zags forced 15 turnovers and limited the Yotes to 40.7-percent shooting.

“We did a good job,” Larsen said, “but there are definitely some things we can sharpen up and keep being a great defensive team like we were last year.”

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