SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Gonzaga came out refreshed and focused after a weeklong Christmas break.
Zach Norvell Jr. scored 20 points, and the seventh-ranked Bulldogs started with a 29-1 run against North Alabama in a 96-51 victory on Friday night, Gonzaga’s 13th straight win at home.
Brandon Clarke had 16 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three steals for Gonzaga (12-2), which was ranked No. 1 for two weeks earlier this season. Rui Hachimura added 14 points, Josh Perkins scored 13 and Corey Kispert had 10.
The Bulldogs were worn out after an early schedule that included some of the nation’s top teams. Gonzaga beat then-No. 1 Duke before losing to Tennessee and North Carolina.
“We had to get some guys a break,” coach Mark Few said. “I hoped to spend a little more time on ourselves.”
Apparently, it worked.
“We did a great job of dictating the offense and defense,” Few said. “We played with good energy.”
Christian Agnew scored 18 for North Alabama (3-11), which is in its first year of Division I basketball and is still seeking its first win over a D-I opponent. Jamari Blackmon added 14 points.
For the second consecutive game, taller and quicker Gonzaga overwhelmed an opponent early.
The Zags went ahead 29-1 in the first seven minutes, making nine of their first 12 shots.
North Alabama did not make a field goal until nearly eight minutes were gone in the first, when Agnew scored.
The Lions’ second basket, also by Agnew, came four minutes later and they trailed 35-6.
Norvell’s basket put the Zags up 47-6 as North Alabama made just two of its first 20 shots.
Gonzaga led 48-14 at halftime after holding the Lions to 18.5 percent shooting, including 0 of 9 from 3-point range. North Alabama had two shot-clock violations and 10 turnovers in the first half.
“That was a good 20 minutes of basketball,” Few said. “I’m proud.”
“We were very, very efficient again on offense,” Few added.
North Alabama went on an 11-5 run to open the second half, cutting Gonzaga’s lead to 53-25, but the Lions could not get closer.
However, the Lions’ shooting dramatically improved in the second half.
“I love the effort our guys put into the second half,” coach Tony Pujol said. “The guys wanted to come out and play.”
“Hats off to Gonzaga. They’re by far one of the elite programs in the country,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for our guys.”
North Alabama committed 20 turnovers, and Gonzaga piled up 15 steals and seven blocked shots.
Gonzaga won the rebound battle 43-32 and outscored the Lions in the paint 46-26.
After shooting just 18.5 percent in the first, the Lions shot 46 percent in the second half to finish at 32.7 percent for the game. Gonzaga shot 54 percent.
North Alabama: The Lions were a longtime Division II power, including national titles in 1979 and 1991. … While all three of their victories are against lower-division foes, they have been competitive in several games. … Blackmon, a freshman, came in leading the Lions in scoring at 16.2 points per game.
Gonzaga: This is the first Atlantic Sun Conference opponent the Zags have faced. … The Bulldogs were coming off a 101-40 win over Denver last Friday, with the 61-point victory margin the largest in program history. … The Zags came in averaging 93.9 points per game to 65.8 for North Alabama. … Gonzaga leads the nation with 257 assists.
North Alabama plays at Eastern Illinois on Sunday.
Gonzaga wraps up its nonconference schedule against Cal State-Bakersfield on Monday. The game may see the return of guard Geno Crandall, who has missed a month with a hand injury.
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