Notre Dame won the opening tip, set up its offense and Gonzaga’s Mike Hart poked the ball away for the Fighting Irish’s first turnover.
It would be the first of Notre Dame’s 13 first-half turnovers that Gonzaga converted into 17 points. The 19th-ranked Bulldogs led by as many as 19 in the opening 20 minutes en route to a 73-53 men’s basketball victory in front of a packed house of 6,000 Wednesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The Bulldogs, who lost 83-79 at Notre Dame last season, improved to 5-0. They face their first road test of the season against Illinois on Saturday. Notre Dame, playing in its second game since standout forward Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL, dropped to 5-3.
Gonzaga dialed up the defensive pressure early and Notre Dame endured empty possession after empty possession. The Bulldogs led 7-1 after Hart’s steal and layup and 21-6 after Gary Bell Jr.’s 3-pointer with 9:37 remaining.
“That’s all coaching, scouting,” said GU sophomore point guard David Stockton, who had 15 points, three assists and three of Gonzaga’s 10 steals. “They’re a rhythm team. They like to cut and move and we knew if we could break them out of that we could turn them over.
“They shoot a lot of 3s and we wanted to take away those. We wanted to see if they could score on our bigs and we wanted to try to force them to go baseline.”
The Irish had scoring droughts of 2 minutes and 30 seconds, 3 minutes, 4:20 and 3:20 as Gonzaga stretched its lead to 33-14 with a six-point spurt, capped by Kevin Pangos’ two free throws. Those foul shots were created after Elias Harris swatted Mike Broghammer’s perimeter shot and then saved the ball from going out of bounds to Pangos.
Harris filled the stat sheet with 11 points, 15 rebounds (one short of his career high) and four assists. Head coach Mark Few credited Harris for playing solid defense on 6-foot-8 forward Scott Martin, a capable perimeter shooter who was 0 of 6 from the field and 0 of 3 on 3-pointers.
“That’s one of the best games he’s played, intensity-wise,” center Robert Sacre said of Harris.
The Irish closed the half with a 6-2 run to pull within 13. Nine Bulldogs scored in the opening half and GU held a 17-2 edge in points of turnovers. Jerian Grant scored on a pair of drives in the final 70 seconds, but Notre Dame was just 7 of 24 from the field (29.2 percent).
Notre Dame had just four turnovers in the second half, but the damage was already done. After Tom Knight’s consecutive baskets trimmed GU’s lead to 43-34 at the 14:52 mark, Harris grabbed a rebound in traffic and scored while being fouled. He hit the free throw and Stockton made the first of his three second-half 3-pointers and Gonzaga’s lead was 16.
“The 13 turnovers kill you, but Gonzaga’s defense caused them,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “They really got up and pressured us, and we played fast. I’ll tell you what else bothered us: a great home atmosphere. We were kind of back on our heels.
“I was happy we made a run in the second half, but when you dig a hole like that you’re not going to beat them.”
Sacre finished with 15 points and Pangos added 12. The Bulldogs made 46 percent of their shots and held a 40-32 rebounding edge.
Grant paced Notre Dame with 16 points. The Irish made just 38.5 percent of their field-goal attempts. Pat Connaughton made 2 of 3 from behind the arc, but his teammates were 0 of 11.
“We were really active and got a lot done with active hands and active feet,” Few said. “They can really shoot it from 3. They shoot a high percentage (38 entering the game) and they made two. Our guys did a nice job getting out on their shooters.”