Saint Mary’s second half surge put a scare into the sold out, mostly pro-Gonzaga crowd at Orleans Arena Tuesday night. Challenged, under the bright lights of March, the Zags talent and athleticism came through in the clutch.
The Zags led by 21 points at halftime, but midway through the second the Gaels had cut the lead to five points. After a sloppy start, No. 19 Saint Mary’s had found its trademark slow, surgical style. But with 5:55 left and seven points separating the two teams, the Zags ran off three straight and-one possessions.
“It just shows our mindset,” WCC Tournament Most Outstanding Player Nigel Williams-Goss said of the sequence. “I think that we’re at our best when we’re in attack mode and aggressive.”
Williams-Goss led the game with 22 points while also recording six assists, rebounds and steals. Calvin Hermanson paced the Gaels with 14 points.
Przemek Karnowski (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Johnathan Williams (11 points) joined Williams-Goss on the all-tournament team. Saint Mary’s Jock Landale (10 points) and Santa Clara’s Jared Brownridge (30 ppg in tournament) round out the five man team.
Gonzaga blitzed Saint Mary’s early, holding the Gaels to 21.4% shooting in the first half and forcing 10 turnovers. Even when the Gaels got a good look at the basket their shots just wouldn’t fall.
“We were so poor I can't even tell you,” Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett said. “In the first half there wasn't a phase of the game we were good at.”
Coming out of the break though the Gaels got it together. Emmett Naar (9 points) and Joe Rahon (7 points) hit threes early, proving the Gaels could still shoot. And an Evan Fitzner (9 points) three with 10:10 remaining made it a two possession game for the first time in nearly 20 minutes.
But that’s when Gonzaga’s aggression really came out, on both ends of the floor.
Saint Mary’s went scoreless from the field for over five minutes after the Fitnzer three, during which the Zags ran off a 14-2 run. And they did more than score. For the third game this season against the Zags, Gaels’ star big man Jock Landale found himself in foul trouble. He was not alone.
With 5:55 remaining Przemek Karnowski scored and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Zach Collins got the put-back. On the next possession it was Nigel Williams-Goss with the hoop and harm, and he converted from the line. Then, on the next possession, Silas Melson (10 points) followed suit at the 4:53 mark.
Explosive offense, and it blew the game back open.
The Zags and Gaels exchanged blows from there, but down double-digits is no time to trade baskets.
Gonzaga’s victory was capped by a Rui Hachimura. The fan favorite freshman forward, who sees only garbage time minutes, hit a three in the final minute and that was that.
Saint Mary’s enters Selection Sunday at 28-4, with three of those losses coming against the Zags. This time last year Randy Bennett’s squad was 27-5 and got left out of the field of 68.
“I feel more confident this year,” Bennett said.
For the Zags, they’re guaranteed a 19th straight trip to the dance and are absolutely deserving of a one seed. Yet, of course, there are naysayers. And, of course, coach Few couldn’t care less.
“I don't need to say anything to them,” Few said.