Early in the first half, Eastern Washington had five straight possessions end with a turnover. When the Eagles finally took care of the basketball, they missed three consecutive 3-point attempts.
It was that kind of a night for EWU and it was the perfect tonic for Gonzaga, which cruised to its easiest men’s basketball win of the season, a 94-52 rout Monday night in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga (9-3) shook off any lingering malaise from a blowout loss to Duke on Dec. 19 by winning its 22nd straight decision over the Eagles (4-10).
“Obviously, we kind of had a bad taste in our mouths over Christmas,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “We competed at a high level. There weren’t many things we did poorly. I think we did everything well, except maybe shoot it well from the free-throw line.”
GU’s 15-of-29 effort at the line had virtually no impact as the Bulldogs spotted EWU an early four-point lead then roared in front 21-8 with a 13-0 run. It was during that spurt that the Eagles committed five of their 16 first-half turnovers, which led to 24 Gonzaga points. The Bulldogs led 53-25 at the half.
“We can’t design a defense to help us when we keep giving them the ball. I thought they treated us like little brothers in the back yard, and I mean that as a compliment to Gonzaga, because they were physically more aggressive than us,” said Eagles coach Kirk Earlywine, whose club dropped its fifth game in a row. “They just took the ball from us. There’s just no excuse to just give the ball away – just let people take it out of your hands.”
The Eagles’ losing streak has corresponded with a stretch of poor shooting. In their three previous losses, they made 27, 28 and 38 percent from the field. Against GU, the Eagles shot 29 percent and connected on just 4 of 24 3-pointers (16.7 percent).
“They run some interesting sets out of the Princeton offense,” Few said. “We wanted to pressure them and make it tougher to get into those sets, and then really challenge all of their shots. We did a nice job of making sure they didn’t get it going.”
Five Zags reached double figures, led by Elias Harris’ 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray each chipped in 11 points. Manny Arop and Kelly Olynyk each had 10.
The Bulldogs’ shooting percentage was in the 60s for much of the game before they finished at 50 percent. After making just 1 of 10 3s against Duke, the Bulldogs made a season-high 11 of 24 from beyond the arc. The Zags had 36 points in the paint and 38 points from the bench. First-year Bulldogs (counting redshirt freshmen Grant Gibbs and Andy Poling) scored 60 points.
Arop had seven rebounds and six assists.
“I was happy about the rebounding and the shooting because we’ve been struggling lately with those,” Arop said. “It was good for us to get back that rebounding mentality and intensity we had earlier.”
Gonzaga dominated the boards 56-35 as Harris, Arop and Bol Kong each grabbed seven.
“It started with three or four good practices this week,” said point guard Demetri Goodson, who had nine points. “Guys were going out there and playing with confidence. That’s really all it is.”
Perhaps the most promising development from Gonzaga’s perspective was Bouldin filling up the stat sheet. He hit a pair of 3-pointers, had three assists and four of GU’s 14 steals. The senior guard sat out one game after a head-to-head collision with an Augustana player on Dec. 9 and then struggled against Duke.
“I didn’t really get many reps during the week (before the Duke game),” Bouldin said. “No excuses, I didn’t play well, but I definitely feel more like myself again.”
Gonzaga entertains Oklahoma at the Spokane Arena at 7 p.m. on Thursday while Sacramento State visits EWU at 3:05.