It is never too early for a statement win, and that is exactly what the Gonzaga Bulldogs delivered to the San Diego State Aztecs in a 69-48 victory on Monday night.
It was a late start thanks to the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon, and at first it seemed like neither team was willing to reward the devoted. For the first three-plus minutes, the score remained an impressive 0-0. San Diego State would slowly, ever so slowly, put together a 6-2 lead, but that would be it.
The Zags buckled down, and then some. Gonzaga switched to a zone defense, and that spelled the end of the Aztecs. San Diego State couldn’t buy a shot to save their lives, hitting a mere 28.6 percent of their shots from the floor and just 23.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga began to pour it on. Zach Collins and Killian Tillie entered the game as one of the best pairs of sparkplugs you have ever seen. Collins finished with 15 points and eight rebounds alongside Tillie’s eight points and 10 rebounds. Mind you, they came off the bench, so Collins did that all in just 21 minutes and Tillie in 20.
That depth was also on display in the backcourt. Williams-Goss finished with 10 points but was in a severe shooting funk, hitting just 3-of-12 from the floor. Melson, after his 17 point explosion to open the season, vanished on the offensive end, attempting just five shots for a grand total of two points. Perkins, playing in his first game of the year, hit a deep three for his first shot of the season and then nothing after that.
But all of that futility didn’t matter. Jordan Mathews led the Zags with 17 points. He went 5-of-7 from long-range, demonstrating just how deadly of a shooter he is. At one point, he hit three-consecutive three pointers, one of which came on a well-timed pump fake and the other on a fastbreak where Mathews stopped on an absolute dime.
And none of this is even mentioning the Zags’ defense, which by all accounts was absolutely stellar. We pointed out San Diego State’s woeful offensive night, but the Zags also helped squeak out 15 turnovers from the Aztecs. They held the Aztecs to just 0.658 points per possession. They held San Diego State to two different Colorado River draining droughts, one lasting seven minutes and another one lasting 10 minutes. They were arms, feet and bodies everywhere and played with a disciplined intensity. Against a team that has always used its defense to create offense, the Zags changed the narrative a bit.
For the most part, the Zags never let the foot on the brake. We saw a little bit of what Mark Few’s rotation looks like at the moment. Despite Gonzaga coasting as the game went on, the bench stayed relatively short, with just Perkins, Collins and Tillie seeing any meaningful minutes.
By all accounts, this was the sort of game we needed to see from this team. They struggled a bit at first, and then they figured it out rather quickly. San Diego State is a good team, even if this box score doesn’t suggest it. But they are injured at the moment, and Gonzaga needed to take full advantage of their limping opponent.