We will keep this short and sweet since the game finished yesterday, too late and too energetic for anyone to think coherently about what just happened. The Gonzaga Bulldogs mustered every bit of might possible to hold off an Illinois Fighting Illini squad hellbent on pulling the upset, winning 84-78 in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
It was all around a sloppy game from some key Gonzaga Bulldog members, specifically Josh Perkins and Geno Crandall, and that inhibited the productivity of the rest of the offense. Perkins and Crandall combined for 12 turnovers, over half of Gonzaga’s 22 as a team.
The first half was a nightmare for the Zags. Crandall had four turnovers at half. Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell combined for about 12 minutes because of foul trouble. The Illinois pressure defense was beyond swarming, forcing the Zags to turn the ball over 14 times. And yet, Gonzaga took a seven point lead into half, largely behind the heroics of, you didn’t guess it, Jeremy Jones.
You read that right. Jones had himself the best game of his career when the Zags needed it most. He finished the night with a career high 14 points and registered his first double-double in the win. With the game still on the line, Gonzaga only up by two in the waning seconds, he iced both of his free throws to put it finally, thankfully, out of reach.
The game was always in reach in part thanks to that monstrous defensive effort, but also thanks to Illinois guard Trent Frazier, who showcased why he is one of the better guards in the nation. Frazier only had two points at half, but finished the game with 29 points, including two gigantic three pointers that brought Illinois within arms reach.
This was an absolutely insane game, and credit to the Fighting Illini, at times, it looked like they wanted this win a bit more. But also, lets give credit to the Zags here. They absorbed the punches, knuckled down, and figured out how to get the win. If you had told me that Gonzaga would be leading by seven after missing two of their starting five for a majority of the first half and owning more turnovers than assists, I’d call you crazy. But once again, the Zags did enough to survive the game.
Keith’s ten observations are coming later, so that is where the real meat of the recap will be. The Zags move on to play the Arizona Wildcats today, and hopefully, we will be able to breathe a bit easier.