After a loss like the one Gonzaga suffered against Duke, the best thing that can happen is just to get back on the court and focus on the basics. Tonight, more than a week after the event in Madison Square Garden, the Zags did just that and the result was a 42 point victory over the Eagles of Eastern Washington. Eastern came into this game as a heavy underdog and after the first ten minutes, it was pretty obvious why. EWU hung with the Zags early as they traded baskets and capitalized on some poor post play for Gonzaga but halfway through the first stanza, you knew the game was headed for a rout. The Bulldogs were paced by freshman phenom Elias Harris, who finally seemed to get his feet back under him after a few subpar performances. The German power forward connected on 9-11 shots tonight and finished up with 22 points. He added seven rebounds and three steals to deliver one of his most complete performances of his young career.
A major thing that I was looking for tonight after such an embarrassing loss was just to see how this team reacted and what players really were going to pick up the pieces and move on. I've written for the past week or so that there had to be some changes at the core with this team and that all revolved around the coaches taking the reins off some of the young guys and those individuals responding and stepping up to the plate. Tonight, I am hoping this was a preview of Mangisto Arop's total effect on this team. To put it bluntly, Manny was sensational. He did all the little things we have come accustomed to such as tallying six assists and seven rebounds. The great thing is that we also saw another little glimpse of his offensive prowess. He's got a smooth stroke from deep and hit three of four three-pointers tonight and ended the game with 10 points. His grit is such a necessary asset on this team that has never really been lauded for their toughness.
I'm very confident when I look at guys like Manny and Elias because they are two freshman that I feel will never really lose a game for this team because they can do a lot of good things on the court. Most of our young players still are pretty one-dimensional but with Arop and Harris, there's kind of a element of trust where you don't worry too much when the ball is in their hands. Just looking at Elias' start to his Gonzaga career and Mangisto's steady improvement this season, you can see why they should be integral as Gonzaga hits a very important stretch. Their performances, while impressive, were only the tip of the iceberg in tonight's blowout win over EWU. Read on to find out more about tonight's Gonzaga victory...I think what I was most pleased with was the fact that the Zags did not allow Eastern any real chance to win this game tonight. Like I said earlier, the game was close early but Gonzaga went on a nice run halfway through the first half that really set a tone for the game. Eastern did not help themselves one bit either as they turned the ball over 18 times and just looked uncomfortable on the court of the McCarthey Athletic Center. That makes sense as the Eagles have now lost 22 straight to Gonzaga. To make matters worse from Eastern, they only shot 28% from the field and 60% from the line.
Moving on to a look at how some of the individuals performed for Gonzaga, it was another one of those games where it is hard to judge some of the veteran players. Robert Sacre was the most underwhelming of all the players tonight as he never really got into any sort of rhythm and Mark Few once again had a short leash with him. My Zag-colored rationalization for his 16 minutes played is that the coaching staff is saving his legs as he's still adjusting to the college game and there is no point to burning him out against lowly Eastern. His three points matched his three fouls but it was nice to see Rob do a little better on the boards tonight as he came down with five. Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray each had 11 points tonight on 4-9 shooting. Both shot well from beyond the arc, had a few assists, and Bouldin actually had four steals. It looks like the cobwebs have finally left his head and hopefully he can fully get it together with Oklahoma looming on NYE.
For all the criticism he has drawn this season, there is once again no doubt in my mind that Demetri Goodson is potentially the most important player on this team as conference play nears. Meech shot 4-8 today and had a couple of assists and turnovers in limited action. His stats won't raise your eyebrows but the 53 point first-half output should. What drove me crazy about the Duke game was that the coaching staff totally abandoned using Meech and instead chose to run Steven or Matt at the point. After 12 games, it should be obvious that the offense runs best when Meech can get the offense started by making the quick pass to one of the wings and running through the sets. With his quicks, he can keep defenses off balance so that they have to account for the drive and he also gets Steven and Matt the ball in positions where they can have offensive success. Those two are no use to this team when they have to stop their dribble three feet outside the three-point line. I was happy with what I saw from Goodson tonight and if he can continue keeping those turnover numbers equal to or below his assist output and shoot a reasonable percentage, good things will happen.
As I said in the intro, getting back to basics is huge for this team and a major part of that was rebounding. Gonzaga outrebounded the Eagles tonight by a tally of 56-35. Two key contributors to that staggering total were Bol Kong and Grant Gibbs. Kong, who has been labeled a mere scorer and nothing else, pulled down seven boards tonight and really delivered his standout performance in my book. People dogged him at the start of the year for lack of discipline anywhere else besides offense and it's become clear that Kong has a ton to give this team all over the court. He has stepped up his tenacity quite a bit recently and I enjoyed the fact that he was more of an attacker tonight on offense. He was only 1-4 from the field but had four free throw attempts and while he only made two (ugh), I was pleased. Gibbs had six rebounds to go along with his six points tonight and it was good to see him hit a couple threes just to continue building confidence. Grant's overall impact on this team will never be as a scorer this year but if he can keep shooting and working on small things on offense, he will be a threat down the line. He's also a tremendous passer which we have noted. His one assist will sell short a few other beautiful passes he made but, like Meech and others, he'll have to cut down on his turnover output.
Turnovers for this entire team seem to be a growing issue. Gonzaga had 16 on the night with G.J. Vilarino leading the pack with three. 16 against a team like Eastern is just not going to cut it with some big games on the horizon especially from our guards. The only actual contributors that didn't turn the ball over tonight were Kelly Olynyk and Bol Kong which is good for these two young guys but that means about eight other players had one or two turnovers which adds up over time. I'd also be doing a poor job if I didn't mention free-throw shooting. To be honest, I feel like this is an issue we are going to have to just live with this season. We're 12 games in and Gonzaga has shown no real improvement over the season. They shot 51% from the stripe and the only contributor that didn't miss was Meech Goodson who attempted one free throw. Harris and Vilarino missed three, Kong missed two, and a whole bunch of others missed from the line to give Gonzaga a 15-29 effort from the charity stripe. I'd like to say something will change for this team but, in their quietest game atmosphere to date, the Zags turned in another terrible night from the line.
Next up for the Gonzaga Bulldogs will be the Sooners of Oklahoma. OU has been inconsistent this year as has their star player Willie Warren but their 8-4 record is solid and they will be a huge test for this Bulldogs team that is still searching for a few more quality wins before descending into the West Coast Conference.