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Gonzaga edges past Kent State in 73-66 win

Kelly Olynyk got his number hung in the rafters and the Zags returned to winning ways.

NCAA Basketball: Kent State at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs returned to the friendly confines of The Kennel but things weren’t any easier at home than they were on the road for the last few weeks. In a welcome reversal of the ending from Friday night’s game, however, the Zags scored the last 11 points of this contest to walk away with a much needed 73-66 victory over the Kent State Golden Flashes.

As seems to be a necessity at the moment, Gonzaga’s return to the win column coincided with a monster bounce back performance from Gonzaga’s man in the middle. Drew Timme finished the game with 29 points, 17 rebounds, and 4 assists in a night when the Zags needed just about every point he could offer. Julian Strawther added 14 points (3-5 3PT FG) and 8 rebounds, and Nolan Hickman finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists while playing all 40 minutes.

Gonzaga did a nice job of avoiding turnovers in the first half (3) as the coaching staff must have drilled into their head over the last 48 hours that Kent State feasts on turnovers. Coupled with a strong start from Timme, the Bulldogs went into the break with a 40-34 lead.

In the second half? The Zags must have forgotten the turnover memo. Gonzaga matched its first half turnover total just over six minutes into the second half which allowed Kent State to take a 52-51 lead in the midst of an extended scoring drought by the Zags.

Prior to the drought, the Zags looked like they might pull away after establishing a 10-point lead. As we have seen several times already in this young season, Gonzaga’s leads can be tenuous. A few turnovers and a couple of missed shots later and the Zags were in a tight battle against a strong opponent that has already come close to knocking off the nation’s current #1 team in Houston.

And it was a battle. Kent State and Gonzaga traded the lead a couple of times down the stretch. Every time it looked like the Zags might string a few possessions and pull away, the Golden Flashes made a timely play and kept the upset in play. When Kent State’s Myrine Thomas made his fourth 3 of the evening to put the Flashes ahead 66-62 with 3:41 to play, just after Anton Watson had dubiously fouled out, it looked like Kelly Olynyk’s special return to Spokane might be spoiled.

Fortunately, those fears were put to rest. Strawther hit a big 3 on Gonzaga’s next possession to make it a one-point game and spark an 11-0 run to close out the game and secure the win.

Kent State proved to be a tough out, as expected. But despite the win, Gonzaga’s performance may not have allayed many concerns about where things stand on the progression curve. They’ll have another chance to show progress soon with Friday’s game against in-state rival Washington on tap.