In what can only be described as a bold strategy to give up an 18-point lead in the second half, the Zags tested their mettle and held off a furious rally by Deonte Burton and the Iowa State Cyclones to win 73-71 and claim the AdvoCare Invitational for the third time.
After the game’s first 23 minutes, Gonzaga looked to be cruising to an easy win over the 21st-ranked Cyclones. But Iowa State’s Deonte Burton had different plans as the senior forward nearly single-handedly erased Gonzaga’s 18-point lead during a 15-0 Cyclone run during which Burton scored 11 points. Burton would finish the game with 29 points and 12 rebounds.
The start of this game was a nice change of pace from the last few contests, with the Zags jumping out of the gates scorching hot. By the first TV timeout after 4 minutes, the Zags were 6-6 from the field and 4-4 from the three-point line. Iowa State looked to establish an uptempo game, with both teams flying up and down the court for much of the first half.
The Cyclones quickly realized that the Zags were more than comfortable playing at their fast pace, with head coach Steve Prohm admitting during a halftime interview that they played into Gonzaga’s hands by trying to play faster and faster and giving the Zags extra possessions.
By the halfway point, Przemek Karnowski had effectively feasted on Iowa State’s bigs, repeatedly establishing position deep in the post for easy turnaround lay-ins; or, punishing Iowa State for double/triple/quadruple teaming him with his excellent passing. Gonzaga shot 66.7% (8-12) from deep and 64.5% overall from the field in the first 20 minutes, highlighted by Nigel Williams-Goss going a perfect 4-4 from the three-point line. Such was the Zags balance in the opening 20 minutes that Silas Melson was the only Zag to play and not score.
However, in what is becoming an unwelcome narrative, unforced turnovers were the only thing that marred an otherwise perfect start and continued to trip up the Bulldogs throughout the game. Gonzaga finished the game with “only” 11 giveaways, but several of those prevented them from establishing an even larger lead early in the contest, and the remainder opened the door for Iowa State to come back and make the game much more stressful than fans would have liked.
Over the course of approximately 3:30 in the second half, Iowa State reduced Gonzaga’s 18-point lead to 3 in a 15-0 run that left fans stunned and the players confounded as to how their easy win got away from them. Nigel Williams-Goss eventually stopped the bleeding with another 3, but the rest of the game would see the two teams locked in a rugged dogfight.
Gonzaga’s beautiful ball movement early in the game seemed like a distant memory as the clock wound down in the second half. After assisting on 13 of 20-made baskets in the first, the Zags would only pick up five assists in the second half. Gonzaga’s suddenly stagnant offense only invited more Iowa State pressure, and a seemingly sure victory turned into echoes of last year’s struggles when the Zags regularly coughed up sizable leads.
However, the Zags didn’t completely fold and found a way to hold on to the narrowest of leads on the back of 52% shooting from three (Gonzaga made a tournament record 13 three-pointers in the game). Despite the big run, Iowa State failed to take the lead in the second half, and a handful of defensive stops in the closing minute along with a big-time rebound by freshman Zach Collins ensured that the Zags could leave Orlando with their perfect record in the AdvoCare Invitational intact.
Following the game, Nigel Williams-Goss was named the tournament MVP. And, a team picture with the AdvoCare trophy and Mickey Mouse ensured that everyone was all smiles after a successful week that is sure to bolster Gonzaga’s résumé in March.