INDIANAPOLIS — Corey Kispert scored 15 of his 23 points by halftime and No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga rolled in its NCAA Tournament opener, beating Norfolk State 98-55 on Saturday night.
Anton Watson had 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting for the Bulldogs (27-0), who shook off a slow few opening minutes and easily handled the 16th-seeded Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions.
Next up for the undefeated Zags is Oklahoma in the second round of the West Region.
Gonzaga led by 22 points before the break and kept stretching the lead after halftime, avoiding even a hint of vulnerability to an improbable upset that has befallen only one No. 1 seed in tournament history. It has won 31 straight dating to last season.
The Bulldogs made 16 of 25 shots (64%) after an 0-for-4 start. Kispert knocked down five 3s in the opening half, while Watson offered some immediate interior production off the bench.
By the end, Kispert had made 8 of 12 shots and 6 of 9 3-pointers to lead an attack that shot 55.7%, including 14 of 27 from behind the arc.
Devante Carter and Kyonze Chavis each scored 12 points for the Spartans (17-8), who had won seven straight. The streak included a blown 19-point lead during a 54-53 victory over Appalachian State in Thursday’s First Four.
The program has a notable tournament upset in its history: a win as a 15 seed against No. 2 seed Missouri in 2012. But the Spartans couldn’t add an even more improbable upset, falling behind by double digits midway through the first half as the Zags – averaging a national-best 92.1 points – started getting their offense to hum.
Norfolk State shot just 30.6%.
Norfolk State: Coach Robert Jones knew the daunting challenge facing his team for this one, saying his Spartans were playing with “house money” in taking on “the Lakers of college basketball.” They even danced around at the free-throw line near the Gonzaga bench before tip-off, then scored the game’s first four points before this game quickly turned out like so many 1-vs-16 matchups before.
Gonzaga: There’s history on the line for Gonzaga in this tournament run as the top overall seed for the first time in program history. Earlier this week, Mark Few’s Zags became the 14th team to complete a start-to-finish stay atop the AP Top 25 poll. And they’re trying to become the first team to finish as unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976. Saturday night was another step toward that goal for a team that has won every game but one this year by double-digit margins.