INDIANANAPOLIS — — Joel Ayayi equalled his career high with 21 points and No. 1 Gonzaga overcame an injury scare to five-star freshman Jalen Suggs to beat No. 11 West Virginia 87-82 on Wednesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.
With Suggs limited due to an ankle injury he picked up in the first half and other key players struggling early to make shots, Gonzaga needed someone else to step in a play the role of the go-to player.
Ayayi did just that, as he shot 10 of 15 from the floor to match his best scoring performance and grabbed seven rebounds with four assists in the win.
Andrew Nembhard and Corey Kispert each had 19 points and five rebounds, while Drew Timme recovered from a poor first half shooting display to end with 17 points – 14 of them coming in the second half.
Nembhard, a transfer from Florida, also added six assists and five rebounds for the Bulldogs (3-0), who have won three in a row to start the young season.
Suggs sustained an ankle injury in the first half, but managed to shake it off and return to the game in the second to help Gonzaga rally through a late 13-4 run to take control and handed West Virginia it’s first defeat of the season.
Suggs finished with just four points, but also had six rebounds and five assists for the Bulldogs, who shot 61.8% in the second half to seal the win.
“At first, we were kind of disappointed because we all love Jalen,” Nembhard said. “Him coming back in the game was big for us.
“He played football so you know he’s tough and we’re pretty versatile so we could do some different things in the second to help him out. It worked out well for us.”
Derek Culver paced West Virginia (3-1) with a double-double of 18 points and 15 rebounds with Oscar Tshiebwe adding 14 points and nine rebounds before fouling out of the game with 7:26 to remaining.
Taz Sherman ended with 12 points, while Miles McBride and Gabe Osabuohien each had 10 points for the Mountaineers (3-1), who fall to 0-5 in the series after the defeat.
With Suggs out of the game for the last 7:07 minutes of the first half with the foot injury, West Virginia used a 14-3 run to push out to a 33-24 lead late in the first half and went into the halftime break with a 39-34 advantage.
However, Gonzaga was able to rally when Suggs returned early in the second half.
“We’re every bit as good as they are — if we don’t do dumb things,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I think everyone should shoulder the blame.”
Wednesday’s win now means the top ranked Bulldogs have now secured wins over No. 6 Kansas and the 11th ranked West Virginia. They have also beaten Auburn to start the campaign.