SPOKANE — If the first three weeks of the college basketball season revealed anything about the Gonzaga Bulldogs, it’s that they won’t struggle to score.
But allowing 82 points a game in three days at the Maui Invitational allowed coach Mark Few to turn the No. 11 Bulldogs’ 86-51 romp over Coppin State on Sunday night into a lesson on rebounding and defense.
“Coach was harping on ‘Maui jet lag’ or whatever,” Zags guard Gary Bell Jr. said, “but we knew from our performances over there that we had to get after it better on defense, and that’s all about playing hard.”
Bell, a graduate of Kentridge High School, had 15 points to lead the Bulldogs (7-1), who posted their largest margin of victory this season despite not reaching the 90-point mark for the third time.
Gerard Coleman added 14 points and Kyle Dranginis 12 for Gonzaga, which broke the game open early and held the visitors to 14 points in the first half.
Arnold Fripp and Sterling Smith had 10 points apiece for cold-shooting Coppin State (2-5), which lost to a ranked team for the second time in three nights following a 42-point defeat at Michigan.
“They didn’t play the first half with the aggressiveness they’re capable of,” coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell said of his Eagles. “I don’t understand why. Maybe they were reading the other team’s clips, OK? We were playing not to lose.”
Dranginis scored on a transition basket and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to spark a Gonzaga surge midway through the first half that put the Bulldogs ahead, 27-7.
The Eagles scored just a single field goal in a stretch of more than 11 minutes, missing 19 of their first 24 shots, and trailed by 25 points at halftime. Twice the Bulldogs forced Coppin State into shot clock violations, and the Eagles barely beat the buzzer on several other occasions.
“That’s one of the best things that can happen,” Dranginis said, “them not even getting up a shot because you’re being so solid. Pretty much the whole emphasis tonight was bringing our own energy and playing great defense, because our points-per-possession on defense in Maui wasn’t nearly what we needed it to be.”
The Bulldogs also were beaten badly on the boards in two of their three Maui games and showed a little progress by outrebounding the smaller Eagles, 45-32.
“But we’re still not rebounding way we’re capable of and certainly not the way our program has in the past,” Few said.
Coppin State made the first three field goals of the second half, with Fripp scoring a pair of baskets that cut the Eagles’ deficit to 20 points. But they soon lost ground as Gonzaga’s first four baskets after halftime were 3-pointers, three of them by Bell. The junior guard was 4-for-9 shooting from 3-point range as the Bulldogs shot 46 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall.
“They were all great looks and you just have to knock them down,” said Bell, who is shooting 54 percent on 3s, “and with the low-post presence we have and guys penetrating, I’m going to keep getting those looks.”
Coppin State improved slightly in the second half to shoot 32 percent for the game. But the Eagles were 2-for-18 from 3-point range.