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Recap and highlights: Gonzaga routs McNeese State 86-65 in impressive start to NCAA Tournament

Mar. 21—SALT LAKE CITY — Gonzaga's first possession was telling. McNeese State applied a full-court press, GU broke it easily and Nolan Hickman hit an open 3-pointer.

The Bulldogs made their first three 3s before the Cowboys came out of a timeout in a 1-3-1 zone. GU moved the ball to find Dusty Stromer for another 3-point connection.

The fifth-seeded Bulldogs were a step ahead of McNeese State's traps and double-teams. They put on a perimeter shooting and passing clinic. They shut down a Cowboys' offense that relies on dribble penetration.

Gonzaga, after hearing for days it was a prime candidate for a first-round upset in the NCAA Tournament, was nearly flawless in the first half, built a 23-point lead and coasted past the 12th-seeded Cowboys 86-65 Thursday at the Delta Center.

The Zags (26-7) earned their 15th consecutive opening-round win. They'll attempt to reach the Sweet 16 for the ninth straight time Saturday against the No. 4 Kansas/No. 13 Samford winner.

GU's eruption offensively came against one the nation's top defensive units. McNeese State ranked third in field-goal percentage defense (38.5) and fifth in scoring defense (61.5). UT Martin's 80 points was the most yielded by the Cowboys this season. Luka Krajnovic's three-point play with 4:50 left put the Zags in front 83-48.

The Cowboys (30-4) were no match for the Zags, who are No. 2 in field-goal percentage (51.6) and No. 8 in scoring offense (84.9).

Gonzaga buried 6 of its first 7 3-pointers and 8 of 11 by intermission. Anton Watson had six assists as GU raced in front 18-12. Freshman wing Dusty Stromer, in his first NCAA Tournament game, reached double figures with 10 points off the bench as Gonzaga built a 15-point lead with 5:24 remaining.

The Zags broke it open with a 16-2 run to take a 48-25 advantage at the break. Gonzaga had 15 assists on 17 field goals. The Cowboys had one assist.

Gonzaga cooled off in the second half but still led by as many as 35.

Watson barely missed the second triple-double in program history with 13 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. Joel Ayayi posted the lone triple-double against Portland in 2021.

Graham Ike had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Five Zags scored in double figures.

BOX SCORE

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First half

19:31 — GU 3, McN 2: Cowboys win the tip and get a layup from Wells, but Hickman answers on the other end with a 3-pointer to put the Zags ahead.

15:54 — GU 11, McN 6: Good start for the Zags, who give up a bit of ground with a basket and a foul at the U16 media timeout.

GU opens 3 of 4 on 3-pointers, two from Hickman. Gregg is called for a second quick foul and will head to the bench.

McNeese starts 3 of 8 from the field, scoring all its points in the paint.

11:16 — GU 20, McN 14: Solid minutes of the bench for Stromer in his first NCAA Tournament game. Freshman has a team-high seven points. Huff is called for a foul at the U12 media timeout.

McNeese getting most of its points inside. Zags 4 of 5 on 3-pointers.

8:19 — GU 28, McN 17: Hickman knocks down his third 3-pointer and the Cowboys call a timeout as GU builds its largest lead of the night.

Gonzaga is 6 of 7 from 3, picking a good time to have their best shooting half of the year.

2:58 — GU 42, McN 20: Gregg hits Gu's eighth 3-pointer of the half, Watson slams a dunk and McNeese calls a timeout. Gonzaga is running away with this one, on a 16-2 and 12-0 run.

Stromer leads with 10 points, Hickman adds nine, Ike and Nembhard with eight apiece. If GU keeps it up they're putting together one of the most impressive games of the day.

Halftime

Ryan Nembhard dribbled near midcourt and drained the shot clock, until finding Anton Watson for a backdoor dunk right before halftime.

The play encapsulated the first 20 minutes for Gonzaga, which had its way with McNeese State, leading 48-25 at halftime.

The Zags shot 59% from the field and were 8 of 11 on 3-pointers, while limiting the Cowboys to 27% and 1 of 10.

Graham Ike and Dusty Stromer lead with 10 points apiece.

Second half

15:41 — GU 58, McN 33: Ike hits a jumper to extend the Zags lead to 28 at the U16 media timeout. GU opens 3 of 5 in the second half, still with the biggest blowout of the day.

13:04 — GU 60, McN 37: Stromer is called for a foul and the Zags call a timeout. Zags still up big.

10:06 — GU 68, McN 39: Garcia is called for his fourth foul at the U12 media timeout. Zags have a 20-14 second-half lead and almost up to 30 for the game.

Ike and Watson both up to double-doubles. Watson closing in on a triple-double.

7:53 — GU 75, McN 42: Watson hits a layup at the U8 media timeout. Krajnovic in the game, Zags reserves should get some run down the stretch here.

3:44 — GU 83, McN 53: Zags going to win this one. Some bad news for GU though, with Gregg's ankle wrapped up on the bench.

Pregame

The road starts in Salt Lake City.

Fifth-seeded Gonzaga opens the NCAA Tournament this evening against No. 12 seed McNeese State. Tipoff is set for 4:25 p.m. on TBS.

The Bulldogs (25-7, No. 18 AP) are playing in their 25th consecutive tournament and are looking to make their eighth straight Sweet 16. To do so they'll have to go through the Southland champion Cowboys (30-3) and await the winner of tonight's game between Kansas and Samford.

The Zags are a 6 1/2 -point favorite, though MSU has been a trendy underdog pick. Even CBS host Seth Davis called for an upset on the selection Sunday broadcast.

The public is still heavily on the Zags, with 78% of ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets picking GU.

Get to know McNeese State

Game preview

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