SPOKANE, Wash. – Coach Nick Robinson will likely always remember tonight, as it was his first game as head coach of the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.
Despite being on the losing side of the game, Robinson thinks his team will take several good things away from this matchup against No. 21 Gonzaga.
"Fifty percent shooting for the first game, against a very good defensive team, is a good effort for us," said Robinson, who spent the last three season on the LSU staff. "In terms of rebounding, we definitely fought throughout the game.
"Obviously, they are a very physical team and they did a nice job defensively. They were able to get some run outs on us at all positions."
Gonzaga only lost one starter from last season — its leader — center Robert Sacre.
The Zags may have already found a replacement in 7-foot-1 freshman Przemek Karnowski.
Karnowski scored 22 points to lead No. 21 Gonzaga to a 103-65 win over Southern Utah on Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
Karnowski, a highly touted 7-foot-1 center from Poland, led six players in double figures. He made 10-of-16 field goals, which were mostly hook shots from deep inside the key.
Guy Landry Edi scored a career-high 16 points, Sam Dower had 15, Elias Harris and David Stockton had 12 apiece and Kevin Pangos added 10 for Gonzaga.
Even with 103 points on the scoreboard, Gonzaga coach Mark Few was praising the defensive effort of his team.
"I can't remember when the last time we turned somebody over 28 times," Few said. "It was good ball pressure."
Jackson Stevenett led Southern Utah with 29 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Waded Collie added 10 points for the Thunderbirds. Southern Utah shot 49 percent for the game, but had 28 turnovers compared to only 9 for Gonzaga.
"We knew that's a rhythm system and so if you can disrupt the rhythm, then you're better off than chasing them through a myriad of screens," Few said.
Gonzaga, which was never threatened after halftime, opened the second half with a 12-2 run and allowed only one Southern Utah field goal in the first 5 minutes. A free throw by Gary Bell Jr. gave the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the night at 83-45 with 7:47 left.
The Bulldogs made nearly 55 percent of their field goals, including 6 of 13 from 3-point range. Despites its size in the middle, Gonzaga only outrebounded Southern Utah 36-33.
"I just feel like our rotations are deeper than last year," Dower said. "Anybody can really start. Everybody on the floor can produce whether it's defensively or offensively. I think the constant subbing will just wear a team down."
Gonzaga led 44-27 at halftime despite Southern Utah making 48 percent of its shots. The Bulldogs forced 18 turnovers, commiting only four. Gonzaga attempted 18 more field-goals than the Thunderbirds and were 4 of 10 from behing the arc.
Gonzaga made 3-of-4 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game and used a 14-2 run to build a 23-10 lead with 12:28 left. Stevenett kept Southern Utah close, scoring 10 of the Thunderbirds 13 points points in an eight minute span. Stevenett scored 12 first half points on 5-of-8 shooting.
A dunk by Edi, with 3:42 left, delighted the crowd and gave Gonzaga a 37-21 lead. The Bulldogs held Southern Utah to three field goals in the final 7 minutes.
"Everybody go out there and play two minutes, four minutes, 20 minutes, just go out there and give it your all," Edi said. "That's the message from our coaches."
Stevenett, a forward, is one of only two returning starters for the Thunderbirds. Guard Damon Heuir is the other starter from a year ago and scored five points on 2 of 11 shooting.
"Jackson's (Stevenett) been here before in this type of environment," Robinson said. "He's aggressive in any situation you put him in. He made some tough shots, hit some open looks and I was pleased that he hit some open 3-pointers tonight."
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 21 in the preseason Top 25 and are seeking their 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance. Gonzaga is returning four starters from a year ago. Harris, Pangos, Bell, Jr. and Mike Hart are returning, but Gonzaga will be without center Robert Sacre, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the last pick of the 2012 NBA Draft.
The Bulldogs nonconference schedule includes West Virginia, Clemson, Washington State, Illinois, No. 19 Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Butler.
The Thunderbirds spent the past 15 seasons in the Summit League/Mid-Continent Conference before moving to the Big Sky Conference this season. Southern Utah will return to the Spokane area on Feb. 16th to face conference opponent Eastern Washington in Cheney.
This was the head coaching debut for Nick Robinson. He's spent the last three season on the LSU staff before coming to Southern Utah.