For the second straight game, the Gonzaga Bulldogs’ depth and resourcefulness were tested. Put another “A” in the grade book and another “W” on their record.
Playing without leading scorer Steven Gray, the Bulldogs got another big game from center Robert Sacre and solid contributions from back-up guards Mathis Keita and David Stockton to dig out a 64-54 men’s basketball win over Xavier in front of 6,000 Wednesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Sacre scored a season-high 22 points and Elias Harris chipped in 13 points and a season-high 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs (7-5), who won their third straight game. Gonzaga made 30 of 34 free throws with Sacre and Harris combining to make 19 of 20.
“That’s as good a win as we’ve had as a staff,” Bulldogs head coach Mark Few said. “We’re very Steve-dependent, especially in a game like that against a great set of guards. We had three freshmen (Keita, Stockton and Mathis Mönninghoff) out there for long periods of time. Keita hasn’t played many meaningful minutes and for him to play 22 minutes and not have a turnover … he did a great job.”
Xavier, paced by guard Tu Holloway’s 26 points, dropped to 7-3.
Gray, who left the Baylor game Saturday with back spasms, didn’t suit up. The Zags played a large portion of the first half without starting point guard Demetri Goodson (two fouls) and Marquise Carter (three fouls), Gray’s replacement in the starting lineup. And much like the Baylor game, the Zags went deep into their bench and found success. Playing long stretches with Keita and Stockton in the first half, GU extended a 12-11 lead to 31-20.
The offense again revolved around Sacre, who had 14 of his 22 points in the first half. GU consistently got the ball inside and was often rewarded with trips to the free-throw line. By half, Sacre was 6 of 6 at the stripe and Harris 4 of 5.
“Their big men got in foul trouble early,” Harris said. “We had to take advantage. We just threw it inside, worked hard, put pressure on them and got to the free-throw line.”
The teams combined for 25 fouls, 26 turnovers and 29 free throws as Gonzaga took a 34-26 halftime lead. The Bulldogs also had a 21-8 rebounding advantage, including 8-0 on the offensive glass.
“Early on they were a much more physical team, posting kids close to the basket and any shot they happened to miss they were very energetic and physical on the offensive glass,” Musketeers coach Chris Mack said.
Gonzaga committed five turnovers early in the second half as Xavier rallied to take a 37-36 lead. Harris broke a tie at 38 with two free throws and Keita followed with his first 3-pointer of the season. The Bulldogs stretched the lead to 49-40 on Goodson’s layup off a nice pass from Sacre.
“It’s a really good feeling, especially because my father and sister (from France) were in the crowd so it’s kind of a good gift for Christmas,” said Keita, who finished with five points, three rebounds and two steals.
Gonzaga continued to get to the free-throw line as Xavier finished with 27 fouls, though forward Jamel McLean was the only player to foul out. Sacre’s layup pushed GU’s lead to 58-46 and Goodson made four straight free throws to keep the Zags comfortably in front.
“It’s one of those things where we have to keep playing hard and things will go our way eventually,” Sacre said. “Obviously it’s not going to be fun sometimes and things might hit the fan, but we’re the type of team that we all like each other and we’re going to help each other through it.”
Goodson came back after a couple of early turnovers in the second half to do a commendable job defensively on Holloway, who was just 3 of 10 in the final 20 minutes. Xavier made just 33.3 percent of its shots, including 4 of 18 3s.
“We played solid defense,” Harris said. “Maybe less turnovers (GU had 23) would be better, but we got the ‘W’.”