For the eighth straight season Gonzaga is moving on. And for the third time in that span they've defeated a Big East team in the First Round.
The Zags managed to move on despite setting a season of with 20 turnovers. They did so at altitude with a limited bench. They did it by shutting down Seton Hall's offense and taking all the wind gained from the Big East Tournament out of the Pirates' sails. Gonzaga shot 42.9% from the field, which is poor by their standards, but held Seton Hall to a paltry 32.8%.
Seton Hall set a season low with 52 points.
Defense, especially on the perimeter, should come as no shock — though everybody in the national media had overlooked this. Gonzaga came into the game ranked 15th in the nation in effective FG% defense and ninth in 3pt% defense, per KenPom. They've since jumped to 13th (44.8%) and 5th (29.9%) respectively. There was nothing fluky about what Gonzaga did defensively.
Isaiah Whitehead (10 points), the Pirates star sophomore point guard, tied an NCAA Tournament record in the loss with his 0-10 performance from long range. The most three point misses without a make in big dance history.
"I feel it was just an off night," Whitehead said. "I faced some of the toughest defensive groups in the country playing in the Big East. This is probably my worst shooting performance."
Once again, there was nothing fluky about what Gonzaga did on defense. This was not an off night. Gonzaga is one of the toughest defensive groups in the country.
Offensively the Zags played the same style they have been for the past month-plus.
Domantas Sabonis (21 points, 16 rebounds) was dominant inside, along with Kyle Wiltjer (13 points, 7 rebounds). While the guards played stout defense and added clutch threes and pulled down the many long rebounds that came from missed Pirates three pointers.
Eric McClellan (9 points) led the backcourt in scoring. Kyle Dranginis (8 points) played his usual glue-guy role and Josh Perkins (7 points, 7 assists) ran the offense respectably well against the Pirates frenzied, deflection heavy defensive style.
It was close for the opening minutes, but the first possession should have been an omen. Seton Hall left Wiltjer wide open on the right wing and he buried an uncontested three.
It took Seton Hall over ten minutes to get their first lead of the game, 19-18, which was immediately reclaimed for Gonzaga by Wiltjer on the low block. With a back and forth game going it was a guard, as prognosticated by all, who sparked a team to pull ahead.
Except it was Gonzaga reserve Silas Melson (8 points) who came in and pulled down four rebounds in one minute and 22 seconds. His season average prior was 2.5 per game; he now has a new career high of seven.
Gonzaga responded to losing the lead with a 9-2 run that saw Seton Hall frustrated and inept in the half court. It only got worse as their star guard, Whitehead, kept putting up bricks. He would end up needing oxygen on the bench. He also picked up a flagrant 1 late in the first for swiping at Melson's head as Melson called timeout on a loose ball.
Whatever Kevin Willard said to his team at halftime didn't work.
The Pirates opened the second half looking even more worn down than they had to end the first. Gonzaga ran up seven unanswered points in the first 2:35 and Willard had to call a stop-the-bleeding timeout. Whatever he said during that timeout, unlike at halftime, worked really well.
Derrick Gordon, playing in his third NCAA Tournament for as many teams, came up big in the second half.
Seton Hall cut the Zags' lead to ten points soon after that timeout. The Pirates slowly brought themselves to within three possessions of the Zags when Kevin Willard once again said something that didn't work. This time it was to an official and he was given a technical.
Down the stretch Ismael Sanogo (4 points, 9 rebounds) and Sabonis clashed in the post at both ends. Twice on Seton Hall's side of the floor the two ended up crashing to the deck. Both times Sanogo got called for fouls. Unfortunately the second time ended with a dislocated shoulder for the Pirates big man. His season was cut painfully short.
Shortly thereafter the Pirates dream season came to an end as well.
Gonzaga, now 27-7, advances to face 3-seed Utah on Saturday.