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Gonzaga’s defense shines in win over Alcorn State, 84-57

Julian Strawther had a career night.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

A balanced offensive attack and a stifling defense helped give the Gonzaga Bulldogs the easy victory over the Alcorn State Braves, 84-57, on Monday evening.

Fresh off a big win over the Texas Longhorns on Saturday, the Zags hit the court sprinting, led by Julian Strawther who continues to showcase his offensive potential. After setting a career-high with 17 points in the opener against Dixie State, Strawther had 15 points in the first half of tonight’s contest. Things cooled off a bit in the second half, but he finished the game with a new career-high of 18 points.

Like the exhibitions and the Dixie State game, the Zags opened up the bench, and many of the young up and comers put in solid performances. Hunter Sallis was stellar, finishing with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Ben Gregg made the most of his 12 minutes, scoring eight points.

Overall, it was a balanced attack for the Zags, with nine different players scoring, showcasing the depth of the squad.

The defense, as expected, made life rather miserable for the Braves. Alcorn State shot just 40 percent from the floor and scored just 0.838 points per possession. In the midst of a tour of Washington (and the rest of their non-conference slate), the Braves showed some grit and hustle. They shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half and almost paced the Zags for those 20 minutes, scoring 36 points to Gonzaga’s 39. Of course, the bench had been completely emptied for Gonzaga with over five minutes left in the game and the Braves still playing their starters.

That is why it is important to look at the first half, when both teams were largely playing with their standard rotations. Alcorn State scored just 0.583 points per possession in the first half and were limited to 30 percent from the floor. The addition of Chet Holmgren, who blocked three shots in the first half, has allowed Drew Timme to assert himself a bit more aggressively on the rim protection as well. Timme added two blocks himself.

After an explosive game against Texas, Timme played a new role in this contest. He scored 10 points but also dished out six assists. In his place, Holmgren was a bit more aggressive on the offensive end, utilizing some fancy footwork and showcasing his range with a three pointer of his own. We haven’t seen the two players explode at the same time, but perhaps that will be in the works soon.

Each game can’t be all bells and whistles, of course. The Zags still turned the ball over 13 times in the game on quite a few mishandles an errant passes. These are things we will continue to see as the offensive unit gels together, but each time it is enough to make one wince.

All in all, it was a good early season contest. The Zags will have another one on Friday against the Bellarmine Knights on Friday evening.