guard Josh Perkins carries more weight on his shoulders this season as one of two returning starters from last year’s 37-2 team that reached the national title.
Perkins showed promise with his leadership role, topping the 17th-ranked Bulldogs with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting from 3-point range in their 96-69 season-opening win over Texas Southern last week.
The 6-foot-3 junior will again be the focal point for scoring opportunities Tuesday night when Gonzaga (1-0) plays Howard (0-2) in a nonconference game at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Wash.
Asked about being more assertive looking for his shot, Perkins told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review: “(The coaches) let me know a lot and I appreciate them letting me know. For me, being aggressive is better for the team and it showed tonight. … They’re pretty good coaches. I should probably listen to everything they say. Not a bad idea to listen to what they say.”
Gonzaga coach Mark Few indicated that Perkins’ low assist (two) total against Texas Southern was not as important as him looking for scoring opportunities.
“He’s really one of those guys that gets a real rise out of making a pass,” Few said. “I think he’s coming to the realization that he’s an elite-level shooter and play off that first, and second maybe explore those other things.”
Howard, which lost by nine points at George Washington and Indiana, plays its third game on the road in five days when it tips off against Gonzaga. The Bison, of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, play their first seven games on the road.
They are led by guard R.J. Cole, a 6-1 freshman guard who figures to be matched against the more experienced Perkins. Cole averaged 25 points and seven assists in the first two games, including a 27-point effort in an 86-77 loss at Indiana on Sunday.
Cole embodies the shoot-first mentality Gonzaga’s coaches want to see Perkins develop as a complement to point guard Silas Melson. Cole has made 7 of 15 from 3-point range and his aggressive style has allowed him to go to the free-throw line 20 times, making 17.
“He’s talented,” Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry said of Cole after the Indiana game. “I’ve been coaching 29 years. I coached in the NBA. He’s one of the best freshman point guards I’ve ever coached. He’s a conductor. He makes sweet music.”
Perkins must set the tone on the perimeter with his defense and with his shooting ability with West Coast Conference Player of the Year Nigel Williams-Goss and sharpshooting guard Jordan Mathews also no longer around.
Johnathan Williams, a senior forward in his second year in the program after transferring from Missouri, is the other returning starter whom Few wants more production from with interior standouts such as Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins are gone.
Williams and Gonzaga’s interior defenders must make it difficult for Howard sophomore wing Charles Williams to get on track. He scored 21 points against George Washington in the opener but had an off shooting night against the Hoosiers (4 of 15 from the field, 1 of 9 3-pointers, nine points). Williams was the MEAC Rookie of the Year last season.
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