Finally, after five years, several dominant teams and underwhelming showings in the WCC Tournament, Saint Mary’s went at the kings and did not miss.
The Gaels upset the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs in a 60-47 game that was much closer than the score would indicate. For the first time since 2012, a team other than Gonzaga cut the nets down in the Orleans Arena.
But this game was not a pretty sight.
The Gaels held the best offense in the country to shooting 37.5 percent from the field and a paltry 2-17 from three. Saint Mary’s controlled the game with its trademark slow pace from the get-go, which limited Gonzaga’s opportunities at reclaiming the lead. Saint Mary’s wasn’t exactly shooting the lights out either: KenPom’s No. 20 offense only shot 45.1 percent from the field and an uncharacteristic 28.6 percent from three.
The Gaels really pulled away when its pair of Jordans caught fire in the second half. Jordan Ford (a game-high 17 points) did Jordan Ford things: He dribbled in circles around Gonzaga’s defense, pirouetted for layups and hit huge threes in order to extend Saint Mary’s lead to seven points. Jordan Hunter (12 points and 15 rebounds) was probably the most important Gael of them all. Playing against the nation’s toughest frontcourt duo in Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke (and now, Killian Tillie), he probably had the highlight of the night with an and-one put-back over Killian Tillie midway through the second half.
Yet Saint Mary’s has played the Bulldogs close before; look no further than 10 days ago, when the Gaels pulled within two points at halftime against Gonzaga before the Bulldogs hit the afterburners in the second half en route to a 69-55 win. It seemed like only a matter of time before Gonzaga would kick things into gear and pull away with a win. But it never happened.
Saint Mary’s dodged bullet after bullet — most notably when Brandon Clarke’s would-be and-one layup — which would’ve pulled the Bulldogs within three — at 4:47 was waived off, as the officials said he was fouled before the act of shooting. The Bulldogs turned it over on the next possession, and the Gaels would eventually extend their lead to 13. Speaking of Clarke, the redshirt junior’s 16-point, eight-rebound effort was a lone bright spot for Gonzaga on an otherwise forgettable evening in Vegas.
If there was a scapegoat for the Bulldogs, then it was the backcourt. Everyone had an off night. Usual steady senior point guard Josh Perkins was held to 4-14 shooting and missed all three of his threes. Zach Norvell Jr., who played the majority of the second half with four fouls, only shot 1-11 from the field and 0-6 from distance.
Gonzaga’s 47 points were its lowest since a 76-41 loss to Duke in Madison Square Garden back on Dec. 19, 2009.
This game has more than just historical implications for the Gaels: For the first time in several seasons, Saint Mary’s is no longer on the bubble. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Bracket Matrix had the Gaels in the next four out before the game. Now that the Gaels are in, fellow mid-major teams like Belmont and Lipscomb will have to sweat it out between now and Selection Sunday.
Meanwhile, there’s been plenty of chatter about Gonzaga losing its No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but come on now. Let’s be reasonable.
Gotta get back to work. Final thought: Don’t overreact to a single loss by clearly one of the country’s four best teams. If Zags had lost this game a month ago, the conversation wouldn’t exist.— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) March 13, 2019