PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Corey Kispert broke loose from a brutal three-game shooting funk to match his career high with 28 points and hit seven 3-pointers as No. 8 Gonzaga beat Southern Miss 94-69 in Wednesday night’s first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Joel Ayayi added 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs (7-0), who had no trouble against a team picked to finish last in Conference USA.
Killian Tillie, a preseason all-West Coast Conference pick, didn’t play. He recently made his season debut after knee surgery and said Tuesday he was still working his way back to full strength at the start of a three-games-in-three days tournament at the Atlantis resort.
It didn’t matter on Wednesday night as Gonzaga made 20 of 29 shots (69%) and 7 of 10 3s in the opening half to lead 53-32 by the break against the Golden Eagles (2-4).
Kispert, a 6-foot-7 junior, had made just 3 of 24 shots and 2 of 17 3-pointers in the past three games. But he had four 3s by halftime and kept knocking them down, offering a smile toward the Gonzaga bench on at least one occasion after swishing yet another 3.
LaDavius Draine shook free of his own outside shooting struggles for Southern Miss, scoring 19 points and making 5 of 9 3-pointers after connecting on 6 of 26 through the team’s first five games.
Southern Miss: First-year coach Jay Ladner arrived knowing his team faced a step up in competition. The Golden Eagles got down big in this one, though they shot better (46%) after halftime and made 11 of 22 3s for the game.
Gonzaga: Getting Kispert going was a needed boost. He finished 9 of 11 from the field and 7 of 8 from behind the arc. The hope for coach Mark Few is that it carries over into Thursday and Friday.
Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles moved to the losers’ bracket to face the Oregon-Seton Hall loser on Thursday.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs advanced to the winners’ bracket to face the Oregon-Seton Hall winner on Thursday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.