LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Gonzaga’s fourth straight lopsided victory didn’t come as easy as the final score would suggest.
Jonathan Williams and Zach Collins led a balanced offense with 13 points apiece, helping the 11th-ranked Bulldogs shrug off a slow start and pull away to an 82-62 win over Quinnipiac in the first round of the AdvoCare Invitational at Disney World on Thursday night.
The Bulldogs (4-0) also got 10 points each from Jordan Mathews and Josh Perkins to advance to the semifinals of the eight-team tournament.
“Like I told the guys, we’re not going to be up by 30 every game at half. It’s Division I basketball,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “You’ve got to scratch and claw, and find your way through it, and I thought we did a nice job of doing that.”
Gonzaga used a 12-2 spurt to open a 37-25 lead late in the first half. Silas Nelson’s basket put the Bulldogs up 48-35 with just under 15 minutes to go, and the closest Quinnipiac (0-3) got after that was 10. Mathews made 3-pointers on successive trips down the floor, sparking a run that enabled the Bulldogs to build the margin to 23.
“Not every game is going to be an easy game. Quinnipiac, they came out fighting but we fought back. We didn’t let the first half dictate what was going to happen in the second half,” said Collins, a 7-foot freshman forward. “We executed much better in the second half. We played much better defense. … We just fought, stayed together, didn’t let it get us down and just kept rolling.”
Peter Kiss led Quinnipiac with 18 points and Daniel Harris added 10. The Bobcats limited Gonzaga’s leading scorer, 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski, to eight points on 4-for-10 shooting despite not having a player on the roster taller than 6-foot-9 forward Chaise Daniels.
“I’m proud of our effort, proud of our togetherness. We have a very inexperienced group, a young group,” Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said.
“We come into this game, obviously, against a program like Gonzaga with a different agenda than they had to have. We’re trying to find ourselves,” he added. “Overall, tonight was a step forward for us. We have a long way to go, a lot of things to get better at. This is a blue-blood program that we played tonight. I’m really proud of our effort from start to finish.”
The Bulldogs figure to get a better idea of where they are over the next two days, when they could face a ranked opponent as well as another on the verge of cracking the Top 25. Quinnipiac stayed close for 15 minutes, but mainly because Gonzaga shot 41 percent in the opening half and missed nine of 11 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. The teams remaining in the winners’ bracket pose a much bigger challenge.
If the Bulldogs can win this tournament for the third time, it would bolster their argument to crack the Top 10. At the very least, picking up two quality wins would help their position as they move toward a Dec. 3 trip to No. 9 Arizona.
Gonzaga improved to 7-0 in the Thanksgiving tournament at Disney formerly known as the Old Spice Classic. The Bulldogs won the event in 2008 and 2012.
“It’s been great for us. It’s always given us a great barometer where we’re at,” Few said. “To get out here on the road as a group at Thanksgiving, I think it does nothing but kind of draw us even closer, and we’ve been working on that all year.”
Gonzaga plays Florida (5-0) in the tournament semifinals Friday night.
Quinnipiac faces Seton Hall (3-1) in the losers’ bracket.