It’s always a bit of an unknown when true freshmen take the court for the first time with the bright lights and scoreboard turned on in front of a packed house.
But Gonzaga’s returning players had no worries about how newcomers Anton Watson and Drew Timme would handle Friday’s exhibition matchup against Lewis-Clark State College.
The two forwards made 21 of 23 field-goal attempts and combined for 46 points, 18 rebounds and seven assists as the eighth-ranked Zags cruised to a 116-61 victory at the McCarthey Athletic Center over the NAIA visitors from Lewiston.
“They’re extremely talented, big-time recruits,” said sophomore forward Filip Petrusev, who also dominated inside with 22 points in 19-plus minutes. “They’ve been great to learn, fit in, sacrifice, anything they need to do. We’re going to need that this year because a lot of people left (from last year’s team).”
Timme powered inside against the overmatched Warriors, hitting 9 of 10 shots and grabbing nine rebounds. He blocked four shots.
“The older guys have really helped us,” Timme said. “In practice that’s what we do and they’re like, ‘Do what you do in practice and you’ll have a great game.’ ”
Watson finished with a game-high 28 points and stifled LCSC’s offense when the Zags put him at the top of a full-court press after a timeout in the first half. He quickly snagged three steals and forced a couple of errant passes.
LCSC’s 24 turnovers resulted in 38 points for the Zags.
“It was fun because we’ve been practicing against each other for the past month, so to get out on home floor against a different team, the energy was amazing,” said Watson, the Gonzaga Prep product. “I just went out and played hard and the outcome was good for me and good for the team.”
This was a game that screamed for the Zags to empty the bench when they reached the 50-point mark with 7 minutes left in the first half, but they don’t have many extra bodies at the moment.
Gonzaga was down to nine available scholarship players after Friday’s announcement that freshman guard Brock Ravet is taking an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons. The NCAA ruled earlier this week that freshman center Oumar Ballo will be an academic redshirt this season.
Senior forward Killian Tillie is still recovering from knee surgery in early October.
“He’s running, jumping, shooting, just not ready to go full bore yet,” coach Mark Few said of Tillie. “We just have to be patient.”
The Zags used just seven players while building a 65-29 halftime lead. Freshmen Martynas Arlauskas and Pavel Zakharov combined for nearly 20 minutes in the second half and walk-on Will Graves, son of former GU women’s coach Kelly Graves, played the final 5 minutes.
Grad transfer guards Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder are candidates for heavy minutes with Joel Ayayi, who hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored 12 points, likely to see extended minutes.
Woolridge and Gilder combined for 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and six of GU’s 18 steals.
“I’m ready for it, that’s what we prepare for all summer,” Gilder said. “It’s college basketball. We came to Gonzaga for a reason. We’re going to go out and do our job.”
The shortage of available players is at a point where the crowd gasped audibly when someone, particularly a guard, took a hard fall.
It helps that the Zags have some versatility. Watson is a capable ball-handler and passer who can play on the perimeter and inside. Timme and Tillie, when he returns, can both operate at the ‘4’ or ‘5’ spots. Gilder has experience at point guard, shooting guard and wing.
“Anton can play bunch of spots and Corey (Kispert) can switch in and out and we’ve toyed with playing him some at the 4,” Few said. “Even Joel, we’ve been playing him a little on the ball.
“He’s shooting the ball a lot better. He really shot the ball extremely well in fall camp. That’s got him more confidence and also opened some things up for him so he’s not overdribbling and trying to make plays like he was last year.”
The Zags, who had seven players score in double figures and led by 62 points late in the second half, open the regular season Tuesday against Alabama State.
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