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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over North Dakota

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9-2

NCAA Basketball: North Dakota at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Uhhh, so that was a little closer than we expected. It was an ugly affair for most of the night, but Gonzaga was able to mount a late rally to secure the win. Here’s what I took away from the game:

  1. The game started with a slew of sloppy passes from both teams which set the tone for the rest of the night. The Zags attempted to thread the needle on passes into the post on several occasions, which played into North Dakota’s hands as the Hawks are a Top-40 team in the country in forcing steals. The early mistakes prevented the Zags from getting into an offensive rhythm and allowed the Hawks to find their confidence.
  2. North Dakota did a good job of pressuring on the ball to reduce passing windows, and once again this season, Gonzaga struggled to deal with strong pressure and turned the ball over 11 times in the first half. When the Zags were able to get some good looks early, they missed shots you’d normally expect them to make.
  3. We all know Zach Norvell is a streaky scorer, but there has definitely been a pattern to his scoring output since he’s entered the starting lineup. Most of Norvell’s scoring has came in the second half of games. While we’ll obviously take his scoring whenever it comes, Norvell and the coaching staff need to find ways to get him going at the start of games. Norvell went 0-4 (mostly 3’s) and had three turnovers in the first 15 minutes. I’d like to see him get in a rhythm early by attacking the basket instead of settling for 3’s. He’s more than capable of winning off the bounce and is a strong finisher at the rim, and getting a few layups has triggered his heaters in previous games.
  4. Give North Dakota credit for its zone offense against Gonzaga’s 2-3. The Hawks moved the ball around well and forced the Zags to move a lot. Seales took advantage and worked himself into the middle of the zone where he did a lot of damage.
  5. Gonzaga’s inability to get to the free throw line in the first half was particularly alarming considering it had a decided advantage in athleticism over the Hawks. Out of all the stats from the first 20 minutes, that was the biggest indicator that Gonzaga was playing completely out of character.
  6. Jeremy Jones had a really nice game, contributing strong defense in 15 minutes off the bench. As Gonzaga began to press in the second half in order to make its comeback (twice!), Jones was used at the top of the 1-2-2 to great effect. His length and athleticism are really disruptive in that setup and he was an underrated component of Gonzaga’s rally.
  7. Four North Dakota starters scored 80 of the team’s 83 points (Seales, Crandall, Jones, Stewart). The Fighting Hawks had no depth and took Gonzaga all the way to the edge by shooting 60% on 2PA (21-35). Gonzaga’s defense wasn’t at its best, but it wasn’t that poor either. The Hawks simply hit a ton of difficult shots.
  8. Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams are not going to enjoy watching this game tape. The pair combined for nine turnovers, 24 points, and struggled to make much of a consistent impact. Silas Melson had a pedestrian offensive performance, but did come up with a handful of defensive highlights to slow down North Dakota.
  9. Josh Perkins wasn’t en fuego from the three-point line like he has been in some games this year, but he was the only Zag that was a consistent offensive threat throughout the game. He was Gonzaga’s MVP, and it wasn’t particularly close. He made a pair of big shots down the stretch to help the Zags rally, and was opportunistic on the defense end in picking up 5 steals. If not for Perkins, Gonzaga would have joined several other ranked teams in the upset column on Saturday.
  10. North Dakota’s final possession of regulation, in which it was down 69-66 after Johnathan Williams split a pair of three throws with 15 seconds left, renewed the debate of whether you should foul the other team and send them to the free throw line for two attempts rather than risk the game-tying shot. The circumstances should dictate when the foul is applied, of course. You don’t want to foul with more than 5 seconds on the clock. Gonzaga opted to play it straight up, and to be fair, Crandall had to make a very tough three to tie up the game. But, once Crandall initially gave the ball up with about 5-6 seconds left, Gonzaga should have fouled in that moment as the risk of fouling in the act of shooting was greatly reduced. Once Crandall got the ball back with about 4 seconds left and initiated his move, the opportunity was gone and Perkins did the right thing by just contesting.