Well, no one ever said they would all be pretty. In a bruising throwback of a game that was mostly a contest between the two biggest guys on the court, Gonzaga beat the Akron Zips 61-43 to secure the program’s best ever start (10-0) at the Division I level. Przemek Karnowski took home player of the game honors with a game-high 14 points and 8 rebounds.
Though basketball has begun trending to a more perimeter-oriented game in the last few years with the proliferation of scoring guards and a greater emphasis on 3-point shooting, this game harkened back to old school hoops with Gonzaga’s Karnowski (7’1” 300 lbs) and Akron’s Isaiah Johnson (6’10” 290 lbs) slugging it out in the post for extended portions of the game. Johnson led the Zips in scoring with 11 points while also collecting 9 rebounds, but will likely want to take back a technical foul he earned in the second half that helped the Zags to pull away in the final 10 minutes.
The Zips came into Spokane as one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the country with more than half of their field goal attempts coming from deep. However, Gonzaga boasts a Top-10 three-point defense of its own and held Akron to just 20% shooting from deep (5-25) overall, with none allowed in the first half (0-11), and 26.7% shooting overall. Gonzaga recovered from a less-than-stellar first half in which it only scored 23 points to shoot 40% from the field (20-50), closing the game with a 16-1 run.
This game bore no resemblance to Gonzaga’s domination over the Huskies earlier in the week, perhaps because defense was actually played against the Zags, or maybe because Akron actually had a plan of attack that forced Gonzaga to grind through possessions on both ends of the floor. The only real carryover was Gonzaga’s continued issues on the glass, conceding 20 offensive rebounds to Akron which led to 18 second-chance points.
The first half was a highly physical affair which featured both teams struggling mightily to score outside of the paint. In fact, Gonzaga’s first made basket outside the paint came 10 minutes into the game from a Silas Melson three-pointer. Despite that breakthrough, Gonzaga’s offense didn’t begin to open up until the second half when the half-court execution drastically improved.
With Gonzaga’s offense beginning to wake up, the last thing Akron needed was to gift the Zags any more favors, but that’s exactly what they did with a pair of technical fouls from Johnson and head coach Keith Dambrot.
Akron’s three-point shooting had started to get going, and a Josh Williams trey reduced Gonzaga’s lead to two points (42-40) when Johnson got called for a foul which he then compounded by getting whistled for a tech. The two fouls gave him 4 fouls with 9:30 to go, sending him to the bench at the most inopportune time. Akron would only score three more points for the rest of the game, and by the time Johnson returned, the Zags were in the midst of a 16-1 run with the final nail in the coffin being Dambrot’s tech with 3:30 left.
The Bulldogs will now get a week to relish the best start in program history and handle their business in the classrooms (finals, hurray) before heading to Nashville to play the Tennessee Volunteers at Bridgestone Arena.