The McCarthey Athletic Center was not abuzz. That was the problem. There was very little buzz to be had in a sleepy Monday night win for the Gonzaga Bulldogs over a plucky Northern Illinois Huskies squad. The Huskies gave the Zags all they wanted until the hosts pulled away with about 10 minutes left to secure an 88-67 victory that marked Gonzaga’s 71st straight win at home.
Drew Timme played like a Wooden Award Winner with 26 points including an important 8-9 from the free throw line to go with 6 rebounds and 3 assists. For long stretches of the night, it felt like Timme would be Gonzaga’s only offense. Fortunately, for Timme and for Gonzaga, he didn’t have to do it alone. Ben Gregg’s star continues to rise as he produced a career high 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals in just 17 minutes of action. Malachi Smith hit big threes in the closing minutes of the game to give the Zags a comfortable buffer en route to 14 points (4-6 3PT), 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Hunter Sallis rounded out the crucial bench scoring with 10 points in a career high 30 minutes.
While the bench produced late, Gonzaga’s first half performance was some of the most uninspiring basketball I’ve ever seen from this team. Effort, intensity, or even interest in the game were sorely lacking. It was pretty disappointing to watch.
Sure, there were a few flashes in the first 20 minutes, mostly from Timme and the reserves who produced most of the juice in this game, but the overall feeling from the team tonight was largely indifference on both sides of the ball. Consider this—the Huskies turned the ball over 10 times in the first half but only found themselves down 36-30 at the break. That is quite remarkable.
Northern Illinois wasn’t exactly playing out of their minds either. But thanks to a 4+ minute drought early in the game from Gonzaga and 11% shooting (1-9) from the three-point line in the first half, the Huskies were sticking with the #15 team in the country in their building.
An animated halftime conversation surely would help Gonzaga flip the switch to open the second half right? But sad to say, the beginning of the second half felt a lot like the first half. Timme continued to run roughshod against NIU’s interior defense but didn’t have much scoring help from anywhere else on the floor. As a result, the Zags couldn’t separate. The Huskies seemingly beat Gonzaga to every loose ball and kept making shots to stay within arm’s reach of their hosts. Credit to the Huskies, they were playing with the effort that Gonzaga was not.
The teams traded buckets for the first 10 minutes of the second half, which only exacerbated the frustration likely shared by both the coaching staff and fan base. Midway through the second half, however, the Zags finally found some daylight thanks to reinforcements off the bench by Gregg and Smith, who combined to score 23 points in the second half.
Considering the struggles of Strawther (4 points) and Bolton (5 points)—neither ever found their rhythm offensively or defensively—it wasn’t terribly surprising to see them sitting down through the closing minutes with Gregg, Sallis, and Smith producing off the bench late in the game to help secure the win for Gonzaga. That’s what depth is for though, right?