BOISE – Johnathan Williams was Gonzaga’s go-to man most of the game and nothing changed inside the Zags’ locker room.
Williams was being quizzed by a reporter when he was summoned by head coach Mark Few to handle one last task. The senior forward ceremoniously placed Gonzaga’s name on the second round of a large NCAA Tournament bracket to the applause of teammates and school officials.
Williams was one of the main reasons fourth-seeded Gonzaga edged No. 13 UNC Greensboro 68-64 in a first-round thriller Thursday. He was an inside force on a rare night when forwards Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie never found their comfort zone.
Williams scored 19 points and collected 13 rebounds. He was the biggest contributor to Gonzaga’s 34 points in the paint.
“It was one of those games where the guards weren’t knocking down shots, the bigs weren’t making layups they usually make,” senior guard Silas Melson said. “J3 (Williams) brought it. Big-time plays.”
Tillie, who made 13 of 14 3-point attempts en route to most outstanding player honors at the WCC Tournament, was in early foul trouble. He finished with just two points in 26 minutes.
Hachimura struggled to operate against UNCG’s physical frontcourt, but he did come up with five rebounds, three key ones on the offensive glass. He made just 1 of 6 shots and scored four points in 19 minutes.
“They were also double-teaming and it kind of threw us off a little bit,” Williams said. “They had a great scouting report on us. I give their coaches a ton of credit.”
Williams heated up after dunking home a lob pass from Josh Perkins with 8:20 left in the first half. He hit from the center of a traffic jam in the lane on the next possession, then drove and finished with his right hand to push Gonzaga’s lead to 23-19.
He was the primary option for most of the second half, scoring 13 of his 19 points, before Zach Norvell Jr. and Perkins carried Gonzaga to the finish line.
“It’s like that game in, game out. He’s the best player on the floor,” Perkins said. “He gets every rebound and finishes around the rim.”
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