We all knew heading into this game that there would be plenty of "wow" moments and plenty of "ugh" moments. That is exactly what we got tonight as Gonzaga defeated the Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State. The score, 92-74, will look pretty in the papers tomorrow but there is obviously plenty of room for improvement before the Bulldogs board the plane to East Lansing to take on Michigan State.
It wasn't all bad. Obviously Gonzaga won the game and moved to 64-3 in the McCarthey Athletic Center and 1-0 on the season so there were positives abound. The first thing that jumps to mind was the play of Elias Harris. The nationally overlooked German freshman was outstanding from jump street. If this was Harris' first game, you would not have known it. Elias was 6-8 from the floor and 6-6 from the charity stripe for 18 points. He also added seven rebounds to his stat line for one of the most impressive freshman debuts I can ever remember. He continuously found new ways to get to the basket, handled passes well from guards, and honestly looked like a season vet when everyone else around him looked immature.
The frontcourt was also bolstered by the solid play of Robert Sacre. Sacre was probably the guy that most Gonzaga fans were looking at this game to see how much he has improved. If tonight was any indication, we should be in for a nice treat with Rob. Shooting 6-9 from the floor and 5-9 from the line, Rob ended up with 17 points and nine rebounds. He had three turnovers but also had three blocked shots so we'll just cancel those out. We'll judge Rob more after Michigan State but it was a solid debut.
The backcourt play was my biggest area of concern in this game which is odd because that is where our veteran leadership is. Matt Bouldin came out of the gates and looked absolutely lost. I believe he began the game 1-8 from the field. He got his act together in the second half and finished with a very glossy 22 points but his performance in the first half was something Gonzaga can't have this season. His play must be solid for the Zags to stay in game with teams like Michigan State, Duke, and Oklahoma. Shooting nine three-pointers is something that I hope Mark Few talks to Matt about. His strength is at the hoop and that is where he can kill opposing teams with his size. Steven Gray started out nicely in the first half but then kind of fell asleep in the second half. Shooting 5-8 from the floor, he finished with 16 points. Bouldin and Gray combined for SEVEN turnovers.
The point guard play was nothing to write home about. Demetri Goodson never got going and only turned in three assists. GJ Vilarino played a very good game in limited minutes and, besides Elias, was the most impressive freshman. He came off a screen and drilled a three early on and then drew a couple fouls to score six points in 12 minutes. The two will have to produce more assists but if you watched the game, it didn't behave like a game where assists would be really prevail.
Other tidbits from tonight's game...
-- Kelly Olynyk and Andy Poling's minutes surprised me. Poling played two minutes in his debut and it was all mainly in garbage time. Olynyk, obviously well ahead of him in the rotation, was the first man off the bench and played 17 minutes. The jury remains out on him. He played with a lost of hustle but looked pretty rattled early and didn't show a lot of poise with the ball in his hands.
-- Grant Gibbs and Manny Arop appear to be battling for minutes with Gibbs having the edge right now. Manny got a lot of minutes in clean up time and finished with 14 total minutes. Gibbs played a more meaningful 11 minutes tonight and looked solid. Both had two points, a few rebounds, and made nice strides. I liked what I saw out of both of the reserve guard/wings.
-- Will Foster is who you thought he was. Still buried in the rotation, Foster will eat up a few minutes, get a rebound or two and make you scratch your head on offense. He had a nice dunk and two blocks but, don't expect a wealth of improvement.
The pace of the game and Gonzaga's style tonight doesn't bode well for Tuesday's match up with Michigan State. Turning the ball over 17 times against an inferior opponent like MVSU is something that can't happen in East Lansing. They'll take those turnovers and convert every time down the floor. The team defense was nice as the Devils only shot 42% but they connected on 11-26 three-pointers. Perimeter defenese is always an issue at Gonzaga and it appears that it might continue to be.
Feel free to use this thread as your postgame reaction. If you were in the MAC, we'd love to hear your thoughts. Next game is Tuesday on ESPN against the Spartans of Michigan State.