It was a Saturday of upsets all around college basketball, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs almost joined the list of victims but survived a near upset by the North Dakota Fighting Hawks to eke out an 89-83 win in overtime at the McCarthey Athletic Center. After a week without games due to final exams, the Zags returned to action but took approximately 36 minutes of game time before they began to resemble the team we’ve seen for much of this season.
All five Gonzaga starters scored in double figures, but it was Josh Perkins who was the most valuable player on his way to 20 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 5 steals. Zach Norvell Jr. came up big over the last 4 minutes of regulation and throughout overtime to finish with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals. North Dakota’s Geno Crandall led all scorers with 28 points, and Cortez Seales chipped in 23 points.
Gonzaga’s dominance that was on display last weekend in Seattle was missing for long stretches of this contest. Despite running out to a quick 6-0 lead, the Zags apparently accumulated quite a bit of rust over the layoff as evidenced by the handful of sloppy turnovers and and scrambled defensive rotations (ND shot 52% from the field) that littered the opening half and resulted in a 34-30 halftime deficit.
That’s not to say there weren’t some highlight plays that got the crowd excited. Killian Tillie (10 points) followed up an offensive rebound with a thunderous dunk, Josh Perkins fed Rui Hachimura (9 points) with a no-look pass to the low block for a two-handed slam, and Johnathan Williams III (14 points) went coast-to-coast on a steal and slam. But overall, the first half featured a mostly disjointed and uninspired period of play that will not be making the end of year highlight reel.
In the first half, the Bulldogs turned the ball over 11 times, shot 20% from the 3-point line, and failed to attempt a single free throw. If not for strong work on the glass (21 rebounds), and North Dakota’s own difficulties with turnovers (8) and three-point shooting (2-8), the Zags would have entered the break facing a much larger deficit.
North Dakota opened the second half with a quick 11-3 run and put Gonzaga on notice that the upset was very much in play. Things got worse before they got better when Killian Tillie took a hard fall after picking up a charge and landing right on his tailbone. Tillie had to leave the game and momentarily go back to the locker room. He eventually returned and was able to finish the game.
The Zags finally began to show signs of life thanks to consecutive jumpers from Josh Perkins that also sparked the defense. North Dakota was held scoreless over a 5-minute stretch wherein Gonzaga dialed up significant full-court pressure to go on a 13-0 run and take a 46-45 lead before the Hawks had to take a timeout in order to regroup.
Despite Gonzaga’s big run, North Dakota wasn’t ready to pack it in quite yet. Cortez Seales finally broke the drought with a tough fallaway jumper near the elbow and the Hawks regained some traction to take a nine point lead with under five minutes to play. Seales, who carried North Dakota for much of the first half (14 points), got a lot more help in the second half as three additional Hawks reached double-figure scoring.
Gonzaga’s offense continued to struggle in the halfcourt setting down the stretch, so it was up to the defense and Josh Perkins to win this game. Though Perkins did not shoot at the same prodigious rate from the arc we’ve seen in prior games, he made a handful of big time shots to keep Gonzaga’s offense afloat and keep North Dakota within arm’s reach.
Facing a massive upset, the Zags were able to muster a big push to narrow the gap as they reeled off an 11-0 run to take a two point lead with just under two minutes left to play. Once again, it was Gonzaga’s full court pressure (and some great individual plays by Silas Melson on defense) that served as the catalyst to get it back into the game.
Though Gonzaga looked like it was going to escape with a victory in regulation, Geno Crandall had other ideas. After Johnathan Williams split a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left in the game to give the Zags a three point lead, Gonzaga opted not to foul and send North Dakota to the line for two with a 3-point deficit. Crandall dribbled the clock down to the wire before converting an-off balance attempt on the wing over the outstretched hand of Josh Perkins to tie the game at 69 and force overtime.
Despite the disbelief that was probably permeating through the arena following Crandall’s game-tying shot, the Zags opened the bonus period with authority. Gonzaga reeled off an 11-0 run in the first three minutes of OT to take its largest lead of the night and extinguish North Dakota’s upset hopes. Free throws made the game academic in the final minute and Gonzaga escaped to keep its perfect home record intact.