Sam Dower Jr. has waited three years behind three eventual NBA players to get extended playing time.
With one dazzling performance Saturday, the talented 6-foot-9 forward set a high standard for himself at the outset of his senior season.
Dower settled on one word to describe his 21-point, career-high 17-rebound effort that fueled No. 15 Gonzaga’s 100-76 season-opening win over Bryant University in front of the customary 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center: Hungry.
“I was hungry,” he said. “I just came out with the mentality to get every rebound I could possibly get. In my career I haven’t been known as a really good rebounder and I know we’re going to need that this year. I just want to give 100 percent night in, night out.”
On night one, Dower was off the charts. At one point, Dower had 13 rebounds and no other Zag had more than two. He’s always had a knack for scoring and the left-hander demonstrated that with mid-range jump shots, putbacks, early post-ups and even a rare finish with his right hand.
“Sam was spectacular,” coach Mark Few said.
Dower also did a commendable job defending Alex Francis, an All-Northeast Conference first-teamer who finished with 13 points, four below his scoring average last season. Dower even took a few seconds to check on the condition of a photographer he’d bumped into in pursuit of a loose ball on the baseline.
Dower’s timing was impeccable. The Bulldogs, already lacking front-court depth, were without reserve center Ryan Edwards, who had his tonsils removed earlier this week. Przemek Karnowski was in foul trouble early and rolled his right ankle midway through the second half and didn’t return. Karnowski didn’t seem particularly concerned afterward and hopes to play against Colorado State on Monday.
The Bulldogs had big edges in points in the paint (56-42), off turnovers (16-8), transition (14-6) and second chance (15-8). Providence transfer Gerard Coleman had 15 points and four steals, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combined for 28 points, eight assists and just one turnover. Karnowski added 10 points.
Senior Drew Barham, as expected, helped out at the ‘4,’ playing 19 minutes and finishing with nine points and five boards. Wing Kyle Dranginis also moved inside at times and had a productive night with nine points, three boards and three assists. True freshman forward Luke Meikle, thought to be a redshirt candidate, played five minutes.
“Me and Drew are playing the ‘4’ because obviously we don’t have as much depth,” the 6-5 Dranginis said. “At the ‘4’, it’s almost easier because you’re attached to them most of the time (defensively), but right when the shot goes up you have to get them out of there so they can’t get a rebound.”
The Bulldogs scored the first seven points. The visitors from Smithfield, R.I., pulled within four but the Zags quickly built the lead to 21-10 and Pangos’ driving bank-shot with 2 seconds left put Gonzaga on top by 21.
Gonzaga seemed to find balance offensively, making seven 3s but also scoring in transition, dribble penetration and post-ups. On one second-half possession, Barham passed up an open 3 and fed Dower for a bucket from close range.
“It’s a fine line,” Few said. “We can all shoot from out there and those are pretty good shots, but we just can’t fall in love with them early in the shot clock. We have to look at the context and our guys are getting a feel for that.”
Bryant made just 1 of 12 3-pointers in the first half and 4 of 23 for the game. Gonzaga led by as many as 30 before Bryant guard Dyami Starks went on a scoring tear. He scored 24 of his 35 points in a 10-minute span late in the second half.