Rookie’s Poise Lifts Bulldogs Gu Tops Lithuanian Squad
No college basketball coach likes going to war with a rookie point guard. But Gonzaga’s Dan Fitzgerald seems willing to give it a go - as long as that rookie is Matt Santangelo.
Fitzgerald’s promising redshirt freshman made a few mistakes Thursday night at Martin Centre, but countered most of them with quickness and an uncommon savvy to emerged as a key player in GU’s 75-55 exhibition win over Silute, Lithuania.
Santangelo, a 6-foot, 165-pounder from Portland, put up modest numbers - six points, four assists, four steals and four turnovers - but managed the game like an old hand in the face of defensive pressure from Lester Lyons, one of two Americans on the Lithuanian team.
“He’s just wonderful,” Fitzgerald said of Santangelo, who played 26 minutes. “He’s a coach’s guy - tough, unselfish and extremely bright. He’s a good player now, but he’s got a chance to be everything you want in a player.
“I really think you can coach your team through certain guys and he’s certainly a guy you can coach a team through later on.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Santangelo on this night was his ability to recognize the fire in the belly of senior center Paul Rogers.
Early in the game, he set Rogers up for one of several early dunks and the 7-foot Australian started pumping his fist before he even hit the floor.
Rogers finished with a game-high 20 points and six rebounds and did a splendid job of defending down low against Raimondas Leikus, Silute’s 7-foot banger.
“Paul played animated tonight and fought through the foot problem (lingering stress fracture),” Fitzgerald said of Rogers, who made seven of 13 field-goal tries and six of seven free throws. “He’s had to learn how to play hard. It doesn’t come instinctively to him.”
GU also got 17 points from senior Lorenzo Rollins.
Lyons led Silute with 17 points. Fellow American Jeff Brown added 13.
The Lithuanians, with some help from Bulldogs mistakes, were still hanging around 4 minutes into the second half. But then Santangelo hit a hanging 14-footer to ignite a 15-1 GU run that all but settled the outcome.
The Bulldogs open their regular season Saturday, Nov. 23, against Southern Utah in Cedar City, Utah. Their home opener is Tuesday, Nov. 26, against St. Martin’s College.
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