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Przemek Karnowski helps Gonzaga weather San Francisco’s storm in mistake-filled first half

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski (24) makes a pass as San Francisco center Jimbo Lull (5) defends during the first half of an NCAA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski (24) makes a pass as San Francisco center Jimbo Lull (5) defends during the first half of an NCAA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga’s final margin of victory over San Francisco on Thursday, 96-61, certainly didn’t reflect such a rocky – and slightly scary – first half. It certainly didn’t reflect a consistent performance Gonzaga coach Mark Few expected from his No.1 team against the Dons.

“We did not play great, especially attention-to-detail wise,” Few said.

Well, that statement held truth – at least in the first half.

The Zags couldn’t seem to find a rhythm against the Dons and failed to catch the lead for the first six minutes. But they stayed within reach and managed to keep the Dons from running away before intermission – thanks to the big man.

Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski followed one of his greatest first halves in his five-year collegiate career last Saturday against Saint Mary’s with another impressive first-half performance against the Dons.

In Moraga, California, Karnowski put up 15 points before halftime that kept the top-ranked Zags from being upset on the Gaels’ home court.

On Thursday, the redshirt senior took control again as the rest of the Zags struggled to get rolling. Karnowski led the Zags in scoring in the first half with 13 points, while only missing one shot from the field (4 of 5).

“If I have to and we need some easy points and the shots from outside are not falling in I’m ready to go. I’m ready to get the ball in. I’m ready to help the team as much as I can,” Karnowski said.

Not only were the Zags failing to hit shots on the outside, they were messy with their passes and controlling the ball. The Zags turned the ball over 20 seconds into the game before committing six more in the first half.

At 19:40, Johnathan Williams lost control of the ball. The Dons made the steal and hit a quick jumper that got San Francisco on the board first.

On Gonzaga’s next possession, Karnowski went inside and tossed up a shot to get the Bulldogs’ first score. The Dons answered with a layup and Karnowski hooked in two more points to tie the score again at 4.

For more than five minutes Gonzaga trailed the Dons, falling behind by as much as five points with 12 minutes left in the first.

But Karnowski kept the reins in his hands. He pulled the Bulldogs back in the game after laying in two more baskets that shrank the Dons’ lead to 21-19. Karnowski followed with a quick toss up to fellow big man Zach Collins, who controlled the pass with one hand before throwing in a shot that took away San Francisco’s last lead of the game.

“That’s what you want out of your senior,” Few said. “The guy’s been around for five years, and obviously that’s … what he’s capable of doing.”

The center even stunned the crowd at the line. He hit all five of his free-throw shots, half of Gonzaga’s total makes at the line before intermission (10 for 11). Karnowski had five more attempts and missed only one to finish a season-best 9 of 10 from the line.

Karnowski scored a season-high 23 points, four more than his total against Saint Mary’s, and had seven rebounds. It was the 18th time the big man has hit double figures this season.

“Best center in the country, it’s as simple as that,” Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss said. “Shemmy (Karnowski) has been huge for us all year. He makes all of our jobs easier. We’re going to keep feeding him. We’re going to go as far as he takes us.”

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