I struggled to write a headline for this post because I feel like, although it was a loss, there is so much to be proud of if you are a Gonzaga fan. While I don't believe in emotional wins, Gonzaga provided a look into the future tonight against Michigan State that has to make every Bulldog fan ecstatic about this team's prospects.
The Zags fell tonight 75-71 against the second-ranked Spartans of Michigan State in East Lansing after establishing themselves early on in the first half. In fact, Gonzaga jumped out to a double digit lead at multiple points in the first half and carried a lead all the way until the three-minute mark of the second half. The outstanding veteran play of Michigan State's dynamic trio of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Raymar Morgan proved to be too much for the young Gonzaga team. Durrell Summers gave the Spartans the lead 68-67 and the Spartans proceeded to go on a mini run which did Gonzaga in. Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas added buckets to make it a five point margin and by that time, the Breslin Center was rocking. Gonzaga gave a great effort in the closing minutes as Steven Gray had two looks at a three-pointer with 25 seconds left but missed both. The man who gave the Spartans the lead, Durrell Summers, iced it by hitting two free throws in the closing seconds to give Michigan State the slim four point win.
As I said in the intro, this post is a bit hard to write. Am I disappointed? Absolutely. I think Gonzaga was the better team tonight. They looked worlds better than the #2 team in the nation for a good balance of the night but just didn't have enough veteran brass at the end to drive the final nail in the coffin. I'm not at all upset with this team. The young guys were absolutely sensational. Elias Harris will be a freshman All-American, G.J. Vilarino has garnered Mark Few's trust early on, and Kelly Olynyk might be the hardest worker on the floor. The veterans were in and out all game. Robert Sacre turned in the most outstanding performance of the returners with 17 points on 7-12 shooting. Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray were...okay. Like we said at the outset of the game, they had to play their best for Gonzaga to win and Michigan State's vets outplayed Gonzaga's.
If I was to look at these stats and not see a score, I would have told you Gonzaga would have gotten smoked. Check these out:
--- Gonzaga shot 35% from the floor, MSU shot 44%
--- Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray were 8-29 from the floor.
--- Frontcourt starters outscored the backcourt starters 34-28.
Yeah these stats are not what we thought coming into the game but damn...Gonzaga can play with the best in the nation and not play their best game. That is very, very good news for such a young team.
I must also give special recognition to some of the bench guys tonight. Will Foster played enormous off the bench. In 12 minutes, Will came into the game and not only was serviceable but looked like he belonged. He made some good rebounds, came up with some big tipped shots and was generally in the right place at the right time. I have confidence in him now that he can be a valuable big on this team. Speaking of valuable contributor, Kelly Olynyk played 19 minutes tonight, the most of any bench player and was very good. You are always going to get Kelly's best effort and he is a very heady player. He played the passing lanes very well, made some big rebounds, and shot 2-4 from the floor. His hustle leads to some fouls which was obvious tonight as he fouled out but he really gutted it out tonight. Lastly, G.J. Vilarino. Talk about looking like a vet. G.J. played 13 minutes all in key moments and ran the offense well. He hit one shot from the floor and had a nice steal. What won't show up is that he played great defense as he spelled Meech. No doubt he is a big time player!
I realize I jumped around quite a bit but I'm just extremely excited about the future of this team. The next game is against IPFW and I expect them to be very confident heading into that game. There may be a slight emotional letdown but I expect the Gonzaga community to really rally these kids as they were the better team for 37 minutes of the game.