Gonzaga guard Dusty Stromer (4) shoots as McNeese State forward...

Gonzaga guard Dusty Stromer (4) shoots as McNeese State forward Christian Shumate (24) defends during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer

SALT LAKE CITY — Graham Ike scored 16 points and Anton Watson added 13 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists to power fifth-seeded Gonzaga over No. 12 seed McNeese State 86-65 on Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Ike made all six of his field goals and all four free throws while grabbing 10 rebounds.

“Kudos to my teammates for finding me in the right spots,” Ike said. “Ultimately, we were just locked in on every single possession.”

Ben Gregg had 12 points, Nolan Hickman scored 11 and Dusty Stromer finished with 10 for the hot-shooting Bulldogs (26-7), who spoiled McNeese State’s first March Madness appearance in 22 years.

“They press and trap a lot in the post and we ran a lot of stuff through Anton. Anton is terrific and there’s not a better guy in the country, passing and solving things,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

The Bulldogs will face No. 4 seed Kansas in the second round of the Midwest Region.

Gonzaga, which shot 52% from the field and 48% from 3-point range, feels right at home in Salt Lake City, playing here more than any other site over the years and posting a 9-3 record.

Gonzaga guard Ryan Nembhard (0) drives around McNeese State guard...

Gonzaga guard Ryan Nembhard (0) drives around McNeese State guard Mike Saunders Jr., left, during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer

Christian Shumate and Shahada Wells each scored 19 points for the Cowboys (30-4).

Watson dunked on a fast break to cap a 16-2 run that lifted Gonzaga to a 44-20 lead with 2:58 to play in the first half. McNeese State couldn't get any closer until the final minutes.

“I’ve never had a triple-double,” Watson said. “They were doubling in the post, so it gave me the freedom to find my shooters. I think in first six minutes, I had six assists because everyone was knocking down shots.”

The Bulldogs’ quick passing led to a bevy of wide-open 3s and they made eight of their first 10 from beyond the arc in the first half to put the Cowboys in their biggest hole of the season.

McNeese State guard Javohn Garcia, left, guards Gonzaga forward Graham...

McNeese State guard Javohn Garcia, left, guards Gonzaga forward Graham Ike during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Rick Bowmer

“It was deflating. We were missing layups and they were hitting 3s,” McNeese State coach Will Wade said. “We ran into a buzzsaw.”

Most McNeese State possessions ended in off-balance jumpers and circus shots. The Cowboys didn’t record their first 3-pointer or assist until Javohn Garcia found DJ Richards Jr. for a long-range shot with 1:24 remaining in the first half.

“They were ready for what we had with our post traps ... so we dug ourselves in a hole in the beginning and we couldn't dig back out,” Wells said.

Located in Lake Charles, Louisiana, McNeese State is a public school with 7,626 students and a sparse record of basketball success beyond producing Hall of Famer Joe Dumars.

Wade led LSU back to prominence, including a Sweet Sixteen in 2019, before he was fired in 2022 after a lengthy FBI and NCAA investigation related to recruiting violations.

His Cowboys had the largest scoring margin (18.9) in the country but hadn’t faced a skilled, well-rounded team like the Bulldogs. Gonzaga was McNeese State's first ranked opponent of the season.

The Bulldogs are hitting their stride, winning 10 of their last 11, with the only blemish a conference tournament loss to fellow NCAA Tournament team Saint Mary’s.

WINNING IS A HABIT

Gonzaga and Kansas are the only teams to win at least one game in the last 15 tournaments. The Bulldogs will face either the Jayhawks or Samford to see if they can advance to their ninth straight Sweet Sixteen.

Coach Mark Few has the highest winning percentage of any active coach at .834 and has qualified his team for the NCAA Tournament in all 25 seasons.

WHAT GAME SHOULD WE WATCH?

The Delta Center fans booed vehemently when the overhead screens stopped playing the end of the Kentucky-Oakland game and went back to showing the live action in the arena.

Oakland was leading in the final minute of a nail-biter while Gonzaga held a 75-42 advantage on the court in front of the sellout crowd. The Golden Grizzlies held on to beat the Wildcats.

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