A month after hitting a miracle shot to knock off the Zags in Spokane, Mickey McConnell had the chance to do it again. This time the shot was no miracle. It was virtually an uncontested layup and by some beautiful and pure irony, it missed. His miss, along with some clutch free throws by Gonzaga, sealed the deal as Gonzaga leaves Moraga with an enormous road win.
Gonzaga's 89-85 win this evening is huge for the obvious reasons. It not only means they are in the drivers' seat for at least a shared WCC title with only a road game at USD remaining but it also affirms what many of us hoped: this team is finally coming into its own and peaking at the right time. Five players were in double figures this evening but it was clear that Mark Few was determined to establish dominance inside and go from there. Forty points were scored in the first half. 34 of those points came from members of Gonzaga's frontcourt. In the first stanza, the Zags were bolstered by some Elias Harris bounce we hadn't seen in quite some time as he buried a few jumpers and had a monster slam. The real star of the show early and often was the redshirt freshman from Osseo High School in Minnesota.
Sam Dower began getting consistent minutes in late January and has just exploded since then. From what we've seen so far from Dower, I feel confident in saying that Gonzaga has never had a player of his age come in and display such exceptional touch around the hoop. JP Batista developed touch as a senior and became one of the best back to the basket bigs in GU history but Sam has it in a very raw form. His 7-8 effort from the field was remarkable. He hit contested shot after contested shot and really kept the game close in the first half when Saint Mary's was playing like the better team. Dower's first half was enormous but he, like the rest of the team, made some plays down the stretch that were the difference tonight.
more after the jump!
The second half of the game was a perfect microcosm of the season. There were moments of sheer excellence. Gonzaga jumped out to a couple 7-10 point leads. Then, there were moments of torment as Saint Mary's consistently battled back while Gonzaga seemingly was doing what it could to make it close.
Just as the frontcourt stepped up in the first half, the backcourt stole the show in the second. I have to start with Marquise Carter and Demetri Goodson. Aside from letting McConnell slide past him on the late drive (a big error), I thought Meech did an admirable job defending the All-WCC guard. He backed that play up, finally, with a solid offensive game. Meech was 5-7 from the floor and attached the glass and even hit a couple of jumpers, including a three. You could tell he was confident. Before he hit that three, he was clapping for the swing pass whereas we are usually used to him being an innocent bystander on the perimeter.
Like Sam Dower, it is really hard to imagine these kinds of games coming from Marquise Carter when I watched this team in December. Both Dower and Carter were absolute nonfactors and I would have to say that their ascension off the bench has been a season definer. Marquise was noticeably absent in the first half. He didn't get many looks and was pedestrian. When the second half begun, Marquise began to open things up. He hit a couple threes early in the second half to help give Gonzaga their biggest leads and his confidence spilled over. He hit a running jumper midway through the half and then hit one of the biggest shots of the game as he drained a three with a little over a minute left to tie the game at 76. Those would be the last points scored of regulation.
The overtime period had a similar start as the second half. Gonzaga got out to a decent lead only to see Saint Mary's crawl back in. After Steven Gray's fifth and final foul, Matthew Dellavedova hit a couple free throws to bring the lead down to one point. After an inexplicable Elias Harris turnover, Mike Hart fouled Dellavedova and he went on to hit both free throws. Then, it became the clutch free throw show. Mickey McConnell was whistled for a foul on Sam Dower and he nailed them both. After those free throws, the beautiful irony of Mickey McConnell missing a bunny layup happened. Robert Sacre and Sam Dower proceeded to hit four more free throws and just like that it was game over.
It was simply a great game and a great win. So many good things happened whether it was Sam & Marquise continuing to play at an extremely high level or just seeing those glimpses of how good Elias Harris can be. Put this team in a similar position in December or even January, and I think we are sitting around talking about a loss. Boy, does it feel good to get that win.