Gonzaga didn’t shoot well, didn’t pass well, didn’t function smoothly on offense and had issues defending North Dakota.
That’s how the Zags found themselves in an eight-point hole with less than four minutes remaining against the Fighting Hawks, who were 30-point underdogs.
But the 12th-ranked Zags reversed those deficiencies late in regulation and escaped with an 89-83 overtime victory on Saturday.
“I’d rather play bad and get a win,” GU senior forward Johnathan Williams said, “than play good and lose.”
Gonzaga (9-2) played at both extremes of the good-bad scale in front of a full house of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center that didn’t have much to get excited about until the last few minutes of regulation.
Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr. and a full-court press were UND’s undoing in crunch time. Norvell hit a 3-pointer to start a 13-0 run. The Fighting Hawks (4-7) turned it over twice against the press, leading to a Silas Melson layup and a Perkins’ 3-pointer that knotted the score at 64 with 2:50 left.
“He was a spark for us,” Perkins, who finished with 20 points, seven assists and five steals, said of Jeremy Jones. “He came in and got some stops at the top of the press and it really changed momentum for us. He didn’t get the steals in the stats, we did, but it was really on those guys that got us going.”
Williams tossed in a jump hook and Norvell’s layup gave GU a 68-64 lead. The Zags led 69-66 after a Williams free throw but Geno Crandall buried his fourth 3-pointer, this one over Perkins’ outstretched arm, to tie it with 2 seconds left.
The Zags took off in overtime, scoring the first 11 points with Norvell delivering five. North Dakota twice closed within five points but Norvell and Melson each hit a pair of free throws to seal the victory.
“They did a nice job of putting themselves in position to win,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We had a couple guys that had some fight in them, that finally made some plays and turned up the heat and the Kennel got going. We were lucky that game was at home.”
The Zags scored the game’s first six points but then their offense went silent. In a replay of the first half against Villanova, the Zags turned the ball over in virtually every manner possible: travel, charge, poor entry pass, poor decision-making, and a defender simply taking the ball away from an unsuspecting Zag.
Gonzaga put little foul pressure on UND and didn’t attempt a free throw in the opening 20 minutes. The Zags’ last half without a free-throw attempt was against Utah in the first half of a 2016 NCAA Tournament second-round game.
Gonzaga’s defense wasn’t any better than its offense, which bogged down with 11 turnovers.
UND wing Cortez Seales beat defenders off the dribble and put up 14 points in the first half. The Fighting Hawks scored on their last four possessions to take a 34-30 lead at the break.
It got worse before it got better for GU. The Fighting Hawks went on an 11-3 run to open the second half and opened up a 12-point lead. On the first possession of the half, Seales turned down a wide-open 3 and fed Dale Jones, who was all alone. Jones, a 29.6-percent 3-point shooter, buried the third of his four 3-pointers.
“We let them get some belief after the first 4 minutes,” Few said. “They were outhustling us on every 50-50 ball, executing their offense and finishing plays at the rim much better than we were.
“It was an offensive problem that then affected our defense.”
Gonzaga ironed out those issues just in time.
“Our guards stepped up and made big-time plays down the stretch,” Williams said. “We counted on them a lot and they count on us a lot. They had our backs tonight.”
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