Gonzaga returns to action with win
The Gonzaga men’s basketball team shook off a little rust, incorporated Steven Gray back in the lineup and pulled away from Lafayette College 83-55 Wednesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Post-Christmas break games haven’t been kind to Gonzaga in recent seasons. The Bulldogs had dropped four of the last five, but those setbacks came against the likes of Utah, Tennessee, Nevada and Memphis. Gonzaga, in its first game since defeating Xavier on Dec. 22, opened up a double-digit lead late in the first half against the visitors from Easton, Pa., and cruised to their fourth consecutive win.
Gonzaga (8-5) put four players in double figures, led by Kelly Olynyk’s 15 points, Elias Harris’ 14 points and nine rebounds and Demetri Goodson’s 13 points and six assists. Mathis Mönninghoff made three 3-pointers and scored 12 points.
“It’s kind of hard to get the energy in here when the students aren’t around,” said Goodson, who had a season-high for points and equaled his season- and career-high for assists. “It’s super quiet, but we practiced hard the last couple days and it was a good to play a game before Friday (when Oklahoma State visits) to get the kinks out.”
Gray, sidelined by back spasms since late in the first half of the Baylor game Dec. 18th, started and played 17 minutes. He pulled down three rebounds and didn’t attempt a shot.
“It was like a trial run,” Gray said. “I haven’t been in a game for a while and I was trying to get a feel of playing with the guys again. I didn’t want to force anything as far as shots. It felt pretty good; it was just the long breaks, halftime and the media timeouts, but it wasn’t too bad.”
It took a while for the Bulldogs to shake the scrappy Leopards (4-9), who led 13-11 on one of their seven 3-pointers in the first half. It was tied at 19 on guard Jim Mower’s 3 – he made his first four beyond the arc – before Gonzaga rattled off the next 10 points.
Manny Arop’s 3 started GU’s run and Goodson had five points and a nice pass inside to Harris for an easy basket. When they took care of the ball, the Bulldogs generally got whatever shot they wanted. The bigger challenge was at the defensive end where the Leopards patiently ran their offense with numerous screens and back cuts.
“Coming out of break, sometimes you’re a little rusty,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We gave them 3-4 days off. They’re a hard team to play. They’re veterans and that offensive system they run, if anybody breaks down at anytime they’re going to make you pay.”
Mower found open space on the perimeter and collected four 3s in the first 11-plus minutes. He misfired once, then connected again from long distance to end Gonzaga’s 10-0 spurt. The Bulldogs responded by scoring the next nine points, capped by Harris’ steal and dunk, to lead 38-22.
Gonzaga stretched its lead to 20 five minutes into the second half, but the Leopards fought back within 15. Olynyk’s putback basket and his two free throws were the bookends of a 16-0 burst that gave GU a 31-point lead.
Few opted to put Goodson on Mower after his early shooting spree. Mower was limited to four shots and four points in the second half. He finished with 21 points.
“Meech did a very nice job on him,” Few said. “We talked at length about what (Mower) was capable of and a couple of our guys were casual and he made them pay.”
Gonzaga had 10 turnovers in the first half, but just five in the second. The Bulldogs made 48.3 percent of their shots while holding Lafayette to 33.3 percent.