A return to the Elite 8 and a potential Final Four will not happen this season, as the Gonzaga Bulldogs fell to the Florida State Seminoles by a score of 75-60 in the Sweet 16.
The game opened with terrible news as Rui Hachimura was forced into Killian Tillie’s starting spot after he was a late scratch due to a hip injury that was reportedly aggravated during warm-ups. Without Tillie’s size in the lineup, Gonzaga was suddenly seriously handicapped against an already physically dominant opponent.
The opening minutes saw both teams feeling each other out. For the Zags, there was clearly a cautious adjustment period as they figured out how to attack Florida State’s length and athleticism without a key cog. After a mildly slow start, the Seminoles got it going with an 15-5 run against a Gonzaga team that was clearly uncomfortable at both ends of the floor.
Florida State’s imposing physical edge forced the Zags into a slew of mistakes through the first 10 minutes, with passing lanes disappearing quickly and driving lanes not appearing at all. Facing a 23-11 deficit midway through the first, things were beginning to look dire without any solutions to be offered off the bench.
Bereft of momentum, Mark Few switched to a zone defense to mitigate some of Florida State’s athletic advantage. The taste of success at the defensive end propelled the Zags to find some confidence on offense and into a 15-0 run to take a 26-23 lead, attacking the paint with greater fervor and discovering that you can still drive on 7-footers.
As Gonzaga choked off the Seminoles’ transition opportunities and forced them into a halfcourt offense, we saw the inconsistent shooting that has been a consistent staple of Florida State’s offense for much of the season. But after missing a slew of jumpers, the Seminoles showed the other side of the coin and closed the first half scorching hot from the arc to take a 41-32 lead into halftime.
Whatever was said at halftime didn’t work, as Gonzaga failed to regroup and opened the second half with completely uninspiring play that saw Florida State quickly stretch its lead to 45-32. The Zags began to wrestle away momentum, however, with an 8-0 run before Braian Angola put a stop to it with a three-pointer from the corner.
The Zags perpetually seemed to be on the edge of pulling even with Florida State, before finding a way to stumble over themselves with a head-scratching turnover or simply a poor possession. Time and time again, the opportunities were there for Gonzaga. Time and time again, the Zags found a way to bungle them.
Credit should be given to Florida State for pushing the Zags out of their comfort zone from the outset, and keeping them there for the rest of the night. Gonzaga was clearly preoccupied with Florida’s size and athleticism, and failed to find a solution over the course of 40 minutes.
Could things have turned out differently if Killian Tillie had played? Perhaps. There will be plenty of time to have that debate over a long offseason. An offseason that begins tonight.
It’s hard to believe that Johnathan Williams played the first half of his career as a Missouri Tiger, as he reached his heights as a Zag. Silas Melson ended his Gonzaga career as the program’s second-winningest player and four consecutive trips to the Sweet 16. Though it ended on a sour night, it was a great career that he can be proud of for the rest of his life.
It was a tough way to end the season, but that shouldn’t diminish the season this team had. There were a lot of great moments delivered by the 2017-18 Gonzaga Bulldogs, and for that they deserve our thanks.