Josh Perkins walked out of Madison Square Garden in 2014 with a broken jaw that left him eating through a straw for a month or so.
Perkins is packing his sense of humor for Gonzaga’s return to famed MSG when the 15th-ranked Zags face No. 4 Villanova on Tuesday in New York City.
“It didn’t end up the way I wanted, but this is another opportunity to play a great team in a great atmosphere,” said Perkins, before joking, “I’ll just stay out of the left corner.”
The Zags’ history at MSG, often called the world’s most famous arena, has been brief but memorable. They’ve experienced tournament titles, unfortunate injuries, program-defining wins and deflating losses while going 3-4. Their first visit resulted in a 73-66 loss to Jameer Nelson and Saint Joseph’s in 2003.
The Zags knocked off No. 2 North Carolina in 2006 – which stands as the highest-ranked opponent Gonzaga has ever defeated – only to fall to Butler in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game. The Zags won the Tip-Off title in 2014 with Kevin Pangos earning MVP honors.
They were humbled by Duke in a 35-point loss in 2009 at MSG, which is home to the NBA Knicks and NHL Rangers, and site of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier “Fight of the Century” in 1971 and historic visits from Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.
Adam Morrison got his first collegiate start at MSG in 2003 and needed just 33 seconds to score. Silas Melson’s redshirt was pulled after Perkins’ injury. Melson buried his first shot as a Zag, a 3-pointer.
Perkins caught a pass in the left corner from Pangos in that 2014 game versus Georgia. His pump-fake sent the Bulldogs’ Kenny Gaines into orbit. As Perkins began to drive baseline, Gaines’ leg caught Perkins flush on the jaw and he crumpled to the floor.
“I knew something was up,” Perkins said. “When I got up, everything was just spinning and I had a ringing sound in my ears. I wanted to shoot the free throws but I probably would have shot at the wrong hoop.”
Perkins was sidelined for the season but received a medical redshirt. Fellow true freshman Melson made his debut in the title game against St. John’s and promptly buried his first shot from the top of the key.
“That’s a big-time moment,” Melson recalled. “You’re at Madison Square, you better make that shot. It was something to remember.”
So was touring the Knicks’ locker room.
“We were in there wide-eyed and excited like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is Carmelo Anthony’s locker. Wow, that’s his headband,’ ” Melson said.
Perkins said he’s looking forward to the trip.
“You got to get over it,” he said. “Hopefully the game goes the way we want it to and I can put that memory behind us.”
MEMORABLE GU GAMES AT MSG
1). Gonzaga 82, North Carolina 74 (Nov. 2006)
The unranked Zags shut down Tyler Hansbrough and the second-ranked Tar Heels in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.
Senior guard Derek Raivio had 21 points. Sophomores Josh Heytvelt and Jeremy Pargo combined for 35 and freshman Matt Bouldin added 14 points and six assists.
Pargo made three huge plays after UNC rallied within 70-68. He drove into traffic for a three-point play, fed David Pendergraft for a basket and then drew a charging foul on the Tar Heels.
“A lot of people doubt the play of Gonzaga now that Adam (Morrison) is gone, and we’ve just been preparing for a moment like this,” Pargo said.
Hansbrough, who came in averaging 22.3 points, managed just nine points against GU double teams.
Gonzaga lost to Butler 79-71 in the title game two days later.
2). Gonzaga 88, Georgia 76 (Nov. 2014)
Kyle Wiltjer scored 32 points to spur the victory in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.
“He can score that ball,” said guard Kevin Pangos, who added 22 points and six assists.
The Zags won despite Gary Bell Jr., Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis fouling out, and Josh Perkins suffering a broken jaw.
Two nights later, Gonzaga held off St. John’s 73-66 to win the championship. Byron Wesley had three baskets and clutch free throws in the final five minutes.
3). Duke 61, Gonzaga 54 (Dec. 2006)
A month after upsetting North Carolina, the 22nd-ranked Zags came up short against No. 6 Duke.
Jeremy Pargo had 21 points, 17 in the second half, but Derek Raivio was limited to four points and just four shots by Jon Scheyer’s hounding defense. Greg Paulus paced Duke with 20 points.
“I thought our kids had to win because Gonzaga wasn’t going to lose,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
4). Duke 76, Gonzaga 41 (Dec. 2009)
No. 7 Duke handed the 15th-ranked Zags their worst loss in 20 seasons.
The 41 points marked Gonzaga’s lowest in 25 years. The Zags, led by Robert Sacre’s nine points, shot 28 percent and committed 18 turnovers.
“It was just an old-fashioned take you out to the woodshed and beat you down,” coach Mark Few said.
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