Death, taxes, and Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Thanks to a hard-fought 90-84 victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will play in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
Zach Norvell Jr. led the world in scoring with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists. Rui Hachimura wasn’t far behind, contributing 25 points to the cause along with 5 rebounds and 4 very, very fun blocks. Johnathan Williams just missed out on a double-double with 9 points and 8 rebounds due to foul trouble that limited his second half action. Josh Perkins facilitated the madness with 10 points and 8 assists and kept the ship on course when things threatened to fall apart, and Silas Melson was his usual steady presence on both ends of the floor. Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop was fine, and also scored 28 points.
This game started off as essentially a continuation of the first round at PK80 back in November as the Zags came out and immediately blitzed the Buckeyes. Gonzaga ran out to a 13-0 run by the first media timeout (and 15-0 before OSU’s first basket) behind the inside-out combination of Norvell and Hachimura, and a trio of fortunate point-blank misses on Ohio State’s part that left Chris Holtmann at a loss for words. Alas, the Zags could not complete the 40-minute shutout as the Buckeyes eventually settled in and eventually found the bottom of the net.
Norvell had his way against Ohio State’s backcourt, picking up 11 points midway through the first. Ohio State’s calling card was purportedly its defense, but it didn’t have many answers to slow down the Gonzaga attack. When Norvell wasn’t launching bombs from the arc, Hachimura was pounding away in the paint, frequently getting deep position and easily finishing over whomever OSU threw at him en route to 13 first half points.
Keita Bates-Diop, the Big 10’s player of the year, had a much better go of it in this game than the last time he saw the Zags when he only scored 7 points and was a complete non-factor. If not for Bates-Diop, the Buckeyes would have been out of it by halftime. The big forward kept them within shouting distance with 14 points in the first. But he wasn’t getting much help from the rest of his squad, and the Buckeyes went into the break trailing Gonzaga 44-33 despite having the benefit of the entire Gonzaga frontcourt saddled with foul trouble.
Ohio State flipped the narrative to open the second half with renewed defensive intensity. Its guards also displayed a surprising level of competence, knocking down a handful of threes to quickly erase the deficit and take a 58-54 lead with 10 minutes left in the game.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga’s offense completely cratered, struggling to maintain the rhythm and flow that was on display in the opening 20 minutes. The Zags didn’t do themselves any favors from the free throw line either, picking up where they left off in Thursday’s game against UNCG with another woeful performance from the charity stripe.
Instead of cruising into the Sweet 16 as it appeared they would based on the first half, the Zags found themselves in a classic dog fight down the stretch against a team that had mastered Oscar-worthy flops.
A lot of stuff happened in the last 5-6 minutes of the game, but I’m unable to recount it for you here because I spent most of that time simultaneously yelling at my tv while curled up in the fetal position.
All that needs to be said, however, can be summed up as follows:
ZACH NORVELL ADHJFKOAHDFJKAHSDKJFHASJDHFAJKSHDFJKAHSDFJKAHSDFJKHASJKDHFJKASHDFJKAHDF— Keith Ybanez (@slipperyky) March 18, 2018
The redshirt freshman performed like a grizzled veteran, stepping up at every dire moment to deliver Gonzaga a basket or rebound that it desperately needed, none bigger than a three-point shot from the corner that impossibly went in despite approximately 20 Ohio State players contesting the shot. That made three, along with some clutch free throws (finally!) over the final two minutes, was enough to overcome the 40,000 perplexing officiating decisions (an admittedly conservative estimate) in the second half to deliver the Zags a much deserved victory.
For a team that was vocal about its desire to write its own story after last year’s phenomenal Final Four run, it is certainly doing its best to follow through on that goal. After a pair of tough tests in Boise, the Zags will get to write their next chapter in LA. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.