The Gonzaga Bulldogs are in rarified territory. They are one of (hopefully still) 18 teams that has five players averaging double-digit scoring points. If 18 doesn’t sound that impressive, consider that number is out of 350-plus schools, and then take a look at the other schools in that club:
Drexel, Duke, Idaho State, Kansas, Loyola (IL), Loyola (MD), Michigan State, North Dakota, Penn State, Richmond, Seattle, Tennessee Tech, Tulane, Utah Valley, Vermont, Virginia Tech, and Western Kentucky.
Even more impressively, if the Silas Melson scored just a few more points this season (he averages 9.9 points per game), the Zags would be in extra rare territory: they’d join North Florida and Villanova as the only teams with six players averaging double-digit points.
Johnathan Williams leads the team at 13.5 points. Josh Perkins generates 13.0, Killian Tillie scores 12.4, Zach Norvell chips in 11.8 and Rui Hachimura brings it all home with 11.4 points per game. Essentially, the ball can basically be in the hands of any member of the starting five as the clock ticks down, and defenses have to defend them.
That is why you are just as likely to see the senior Silas Melson driving to the hoop or the freshman Zach Norvell hoisting up a three. There really isn’t a go-to player for the Zags when the game is on the line. All five players on the floor are viable solutions for a victory.
Doing some incredibly unofficial research into the matter, I took a look at who scored the points in the close games (games decided by five points or less, or overtime contests). Starting at the two-minute mark left in the game (and in overtime games, including the overtimes) where things start to get spicy, I analyzed which Zag has scored the most points. The numbers overall are pretty close:
- Johnathan Williams, 24
- Zach Norvell, 22
- Silas Melson, 18
- Josh Perkins, 16
- Rui Hachimura, 10
- Killian Tillie, 5
One interesting point on there is how far down Perkins is on the list, but it isn’t exactly surprising. Last season, the focal point of the offense was Nigel Williams-Goss. If the game was going down to the wire, the ball and shot was coming from Williams-Goss’ hands.
Perkins hasn’t operated like that this season for the most part. There are plenty of times that we wish he had, but he is a different player, with a different mindset. That is why we haven’t really seen him take over games—he more often defers to his fellow guards and Williams. On the other hand, seeing Norvell up the list so high isn’t surprising at all. Norvell operates with a one track mind which seems to be score as many points as possible at all times. In some way, he operates with a sense of fearlessness that perhaps Perkins doesn’t have.
Note: Of course, that research up there also includes free throws, so it is essentially worthless without revisiting every single game and actually watching the closing minutes.
But, if we take it with a grain of salt, it is increasingly difficult for opposing teams to close out games against Gonzaga because they cannot key up the defense on any one person. On the other side of that coin, it might be hard for the Gonzaga offense to close out games because they do not have that one player taking over the game, but the results of this year suggest otherwise. Gonzaga is still sitting at 27-4.
If anything, the question is who has the ball in their hands when the clock is winding down? We haven’t seen too many opportunities this season. Melson was the man of the hour against Florida. Texas hit a three with a few seconds left to force overtime there. Although the final score against San Diego State was 72-70, prior to Jesse Wade hitting a three with two seconds left it was 72-67. Against Saint Mary’s, down by three, your final realistic shot was a missed three point jumper by Perkins.
Hopefully, we don’t necessarily have to see who takes the final shot. But the balanced scoring attack by Gonzaga is as impressive as we’ve seen in some time. It is yet another reason that Gonzaga is going to be a tough out come NCAA Tournament time.