Nothing comes easy for the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament. That much, we all know. The Gonzaga Bulldogs overcame a wretched first half to take down the No. 16 South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 66-46, to advance to the second round.
The story of the first half was SDSU’s defensive pressure, which was also known as packing five people into the lane and forcing the Zags to hit their outside shots. It worked to a shocking level, especially because Gonzaga couldn’t buy a single shot for much of the first half.
Story of the game. Williams, NWG, Perkins, and Mathews 3-17 for the game.— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) March 16, 2017
Gonzaga’s defense was the only reason the Zags took a four point (FOUR!!!) 26-22 lead into halftime. They harassed Jackrabbits star (and second leading scorer in the country) Mike Daum into a multitude of early turnovers, but the Zags couldn’t ever capitalize on any of it. After barely trailing for the entire season, the Zags didn’t hold a lead in the game until 1:40 left in the first half. Against a team that is sub-300 in defensive ratings according to Ken Pomeroy, it was an entirely laughable display on offense.
There was hardly a good point for the Zags in the first half. Przemek Karnowski was rendered largely irrelevant due to the Jackrabbits defensive scheme of putting all five players in the key. Zach Collins provided a fantastic spark off the bench (like he always does) with nine points, but it wasn’t until the start of the second half that we started to see the Zags establish the fact they are the No. 1 seed.
If Jordan Mathews plays like this the rest of the game will be much easier. pic.twitter.com/GxudN9ak0V— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) March 16, 2017
This is what No. 1 seeds should do to No. 16 seeds. All game long. pic.twitter.com/CaTyWTokmD— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) March 16, 2017
Didn't realize we recruited Dikembe Mutombo pic.twitter.com/bg8JpbXuM8— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) March 16, 2017
Finally, the game was much more enjoyable to watch with a comfortable lead. But overall, it is hard to take away a lot of positives from this win, but don’t worry—we will find some.
But let’s start with the bad. Nigel Williams-Goss will get a pass because he has been the best player on the team for much of the season, but he really didn’t have the best game. Gonzaga is large and far a worse team for it, and it is so obvious on the offensive end when he is off. Josh Perkins was also completely forgettable this game. When you factor in both him and Williams-Goss being out of sync, the Bulldogs are an incredibly beatable team. The two guards combined for 19 on 7-of-24 shooting.
The three point shooting and free throw shooting was also terrible. The Zags were just 8-of-30 from long range, and a lot of those were wide open looks that refused to go in. The free throw shooting was also an adjustment, a mere 8-for-18. Neither of those stats can become trends if the Zags hope to win it all.
There are some good things that happened here. Karnowski had a good game, despite the intense amounts of pressure (and players) he face in the paint. Johnathan Williams III was a rebounding machine, and he was able to offset a rough shooting day and provide some value there. Collins was a fantastic player and demonstrated why he will end up in the NBA some day.
Then of course, there was the defense. South Dakota State is a talented offensive squad, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs made their high level scorers look mortal. Daum finished with just 17 on 7-of-16 shooting. Gonzaga’s team defense smothered him all game. Reed Tellinghuisen was a mere 1-of-10 from beyond the arc. Like it often has been this season, the Gonzaga defense was the unsung hero. Sure, the offense was off, but at least the defense was on point.
Would Gonzaga win if they played like this on Saturday? Probably not. But the second half of this game doesn’t have me to worried that the Zags are going to come out and lay an egg. It took some time, but the Zags got it going. Once they did, they never looked back.