PORTLAND – Gonzaga has made impressive strides defensively in the last five years or so and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down this season.
The Zags’ zone has taken center stage in the last two games, shutting down Utah State in a decisive second-half run last Saturday and following that up by doing a number – zero – on Ohio State on Thursday.
The Zags broke open a close game by holding the Buckeyes scoreless over the final 7:48 of the first half and cruised to an 86-59 victory in their opener of the PK80 in front of 7,878 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
No. 17 Gonzaga (4-0) will take on No. 7 Florida, which routed Stanford 108-87, in the semifinals of the Motion Bracket at approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Moda Center.
The Gators (4-0) overwhelmed Stanford with 15 3-pointers, five by Rice graduate transfer Egor Koulechov and four by Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson. Florida made 62.5 percent from the field.
“I watched their first half,” GU junior point guard Josh Perkins said of the Gators. “We have to take away the 3-pointers. They shot it really well.”
Ohio State, too, shot it well, at least at the beginning of the game against Gonzaga.
Ohio State’s shooting percentage, hovering in the mid 60s for most of the first half, plummeted to 39 percent by halftime and 31.3 percent in the closing 20 minutes.
“We really had problems stopping them for the first 15 minutes of the half,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We got a little traction in the zone and so we went to that earlier in the second half. We’ve been playing it well thus far.”
Forward Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate, OSU’s top two scorers, combined for just 19 points, 15 below their average. They were 1 of 7 from the floor in the first half.
“Like any zone, it’s usually good when you’re big, long and active,” Ohio State first-year coach Chris Holtmann said. “And they are.”
Both teams were dialed in offensively at the outset. Ohio State made 64.3 percent from the field, 71.4 percent from 3 and had a seven-point edge at the free-throw line – and trailed 33-31 with 7:30 left in the first half.
The reason? Two of them actually: Perkins and Johnathan Williams, who were coming off rough nights against Utah State. The duo combined to score 23 of the Zags’ first 33 points, 12 of those coming on four Perkins’ 3-pointers.
Ohio State’s pack-line defense lost track of Perkins.
“You can’t score on the first side,” Few said. “In order to find open shots you have to do what these guys did, especially this guy (pointing at Perkins). He did a great job of understanding, moving it and then spotting up and was able to find some 3s.”
Ohio State’s offense came to a grinding halt shortly after Gonzaga implemented a zone defense with 12:50 left in the first half. The Buckeyes missed their last nine field-goal attempts and their turnovers fed Gonzaga’s transition game.
Perkins absorbed a shot to the face and had to exit for a few minutes, but the Zags kept adding to their lead. Zach Norvell Jr. scored on a transition layup to start an 11-0 run to close the half.
Rui Hachimura’s putback and Killian Tillie’s layup pushed GU’s lead to 39-29. Tillie and Jacob Larsen each added a free throw. Perkins connected on his fifth 3-pointer of the half after Jeremy Jones tracked down an offensive rebound to give the Zags a 44-31 lead at the break.
The Buckeyes picked up some points from the free-throw line – they were in the bonus for the last 8-plus minutes – but C.J. Jackson’s floater with 9 minutes remaining accounted for their last field goal of the half.
Freshman Corey Kispert, who sat for most of the first half with two fouls, scored 10 points in the first 5:15 of the second half as Gonzaga stretched its lead to 16. Another Perkins’ 3-pointer put GU up by 21 with 10:40 left.
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