Top-ranked Gonzaga hoped to answer a couple of questions at the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida, in which it faces Auburn on Friday.
Could sophomore forward Drew Timme, who was the sixth man most of last season, make up for the loss of West Coast Conference Player of the Year Filip Petrusev, who decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility to pursue a professional career overseas?
And how long would it take freshman point guard Jalen Suggs, a top-10 prospect who is the program’s highest-ever ranked recruit, to assimilate?
Those queries were both answered Thursday in the Bulldogs’ season opener. Gonzaga posted a 102-90 victory against No. 6 Kansas in a matchup of teams that likely would’ve both been No. 1 seeds last spring had the NCAA Tournament not been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Timme scored a game-high 25 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Suggs, despite sitting out the final nine minutes of the first half with foul trouble, totaled 24 points and a game-high eight assists against just one turnover.
Preseason All-American Corey Kispert added 23 points for Gonzaga.
“Just playing patient, picking my spots, my moments,” Suggs said of his debut. “My teammates really lifted me up the whole week, they kept me calm, kept me in tune, and it really helped lift my confidence. Everybody played their part and did their role. Drew and Corey really picked up the scoring in tough moments.”
The Bulldogs gave coach Mark Few his 600th career victory — and a postgame surprise.
“I got an ice shower in the locker, which I didn’t expect,” Few said. “(Kansas coach) Bill (Self) and I set this up for a big college basketball game on Thanksgiving Day before the Cowboys game. That’s why we love college basketball. There’s a lot more games like this coming across the season.”
Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi had 15 points and a game-high nine rebounds and Andrew Nembhard, a transfer from Florida who only received his eligibility waiver from the NCAA on Tuesday, scored 11 for the Zags, who shot 64.5 percent from the field (40 of 62).
Three non-athletes from Gonzaga’s traveling party were isolating in their hotel rooms after one tested positive for the coronavirus.
“To get the game in was really important for our guys,” Few said. “The Kansas program and ours were consistently doing the right things. We did the protocols and tested hundreds of times.”
Auburn opened with a 96-91 overtime victory against Saint Joseph’s as Jaylin Williams scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Williams made the tying basket with 13 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime and the go-ahead basket in overtime.
Justin Powell added 17 points and Devan Cambridge had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers, who started four sophomores and a freshman after losing all five starters from a team that went 25-6 and finished second in the Southeastern Conference last season.
Auburn played without its top recruit, five-star point guard Sharife Cooper, who has yet to be cleared to play by the NCAA.
Tigers coach Bruce Pearl was certainly impressed by the Zags.
“They’re good, oh my gosh. They’ve got six or seven pros,” Pearl said. “I’m used to playing against Kentucky, and they’ve got four or five. Man, what a great game between Gonzaga and Kansas.”
–Field Level Media