Against Baylor, Gonzaga showed they could win a game facing tremendous adversity. Tonight against Xavier, the Zags faced similar adversity but they did so at the friendly confines of the McCarthey Athletic Center. Mark Few's club was without star senior guard Steven Gray who suffered from back spasm stemming from the Baylor game. With Gray out, it was obvious that someone (or a collection of guys) had to step up if Gonzaga was going to walk away with a victory over Xavier. Robert Sacre picked up where he left off against Baylor. The big man from Canada had 22 points on 6-14 shooting (10-10 from the line) to pace the Zags as they held off the Musketeers of Xavier, 64-54 tonight at the Kennel.
The first major moment of the game was the intentional foul by Dante Jackson on Demetri Goodson. You're never sure what the intent of a player is in a situation like that but, judging from a number of replays, it was pretty clear that Jackson didn't go in with the best of intentions as he took Goodson to the ground by the neck. A fracas ensured and, once the dust settled, Gonzaga came out with an early eight point margin. What's more important is that the refs tightened up the game almost to the point of hilarity. Touchy fouls were called all night, especially in the first half, and this type of officiating almost always favors the home team. The Zags spent a balance of the first half on the line and were able to build a double-digit lead by halftime.
The path to that double-digit lead and holding on to it, however, was not so smooth....Read more after the jump...
After the intentional foul and the build up of the Gonzaga lead, both Marquise Carter and Demetri Goodson got into foul trouble. This sent on David Stockton. Stockton, while a crafty passer, struggled a bit in this game. A few of his passes were picked off and he just made a few too many cute plays rather than opting for the productive ones. He also struggled (and it is hard to blame him for this) on the defensive end. He initially came in and was guarding Tu Holloway. This resulted in what I believe was an eight point Holloway scoring streak. Stockton's without a doubt a fan favorite and a nice distributor, but it is absurd to think he could defend the physical Holloway.
To try and squash the Xavier run and keep Carter and Goodson out of further foul trouble, Few brought seldom used Mathis Keita in. The French guard has largely played in scrub time this season but tonight we saw some wonderful glimpses of why Tommy Lloyd and Mark Few brought him in. Keita provided the defense that this team sorely lacks when Meech leaves the floor and adds an element with his long winspan. Keita played 22 solid minutes and registered five points, three boards, and two steals. Watching him work on offense, it is clear that he is going to progress with leaps and bounds but you can also see that Keita is used to playing against seasoned vets overseas and he never cowered away from the action tonight.
Once again, the big struggle for the Zags was in the turnover department. A ten-point margin of victory seems slim when you consider that Xavier turned the ball over a whopping 18 times tonight. Teams that go on the road and do that usually leave town with an embarrassing loss but Xavier was aided by another turnover prone Gonzaga team. The Bulldogs gave the ball away 23 times against Xavier. Stockton, Meech, and Carter each turned it over three times. Nine turnovers by your point guard trio is a dangerous stat to carry around. We knew Xavier pressured the ball about as much as any team the Zags have played all season but there were too many mindless offensive fouls and ill-advised passes to justify such a high number.
The Zags won this game tonight thanks to a combination of Robert Sacre, great free throw shooting, and excellent second half defense. In fact, the second facet goes right along with the first as Robert Sacre led the Zags at the line with a 10-10 effort. As a team, Gonzaga shot 30-34 and took advantage of all the opportunities they got. Sacre had another nice all around game for the Bulldogs, ending up with 22 points. The defensive effort really ratcheted up in the second half when Meech Goodson and Mathis Keita were on the floor together. Tu Holloway, who sort of roamed free in the first half with Meech on the bench, only had a couple of field goals as nothing came easy for Xavier's star point guard. Keita, like I said earlier, had a few great steals and you can see that his length is going to be huge on the defensive end.
Tonight's win takes the Zags to 7-5 on the season. They'll have a break until after the Christmas holiday and will return to action on the 29th against Lafayette.