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Gonzaga Basketball

Zags get a big lift from freshman Zach Collins in NCAA win

Gonzaga forward Zach Collins (32) defends against a shot by South Dakota State forward Mike Daum (24) during the first half of a first round NCAA men's college basketball tournament game, Thursday, March 16, 2017, at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

SALT LAKE CITY – Sometimes, nothing seems to work.

The shots aren’t falling. The rhythm is lost. Size just isn’t playing up to its full advantage.

Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski couldn’t seem to make it work on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against South Dakota State. At least in the first half. Despite his size advantage, the big man struggled to get good looks against SDSU’s 6-9 forward Mike Daum, managing just four points in the first 20 minutes.

“Shem’s (Karnowski) a great player. They were really packing it in the paint early,” freshman Zach Collins said after his team pulled out a 66-46 victory.

From the start, SDSU’s defense collapsed immediately on the big man, limiting Karnowski to just one basket before Collins checked in with 15 minutes left. Karnowki returned almost four minutes later, but still couldn’t find a rhythm as the Zags struggled against the Jackrabbits. He closed out the first half by missing three of four shots.

“I struggled,” Karnowski said, but not because he was flustered. “I was relaxed in the first half. You know, it’s my fifth year playing this thing, so it’s not like I was stressed.”

Just sometimes, nothing works. But when GU’s star center struggles, they’ve got the perfect replacement in Collins.

“I’ve been telling him, ‘that’s my job,’ is to come in and bring energy,” Collins said.

The first-year center immediately gave the Zags a spark, draining his first shot from 3-point range that tied the score at 12.

For the remainder of the first half, the Zags continued to struggle offensively. But Collins couldn’t miss. He hit back-to-back layups in less than a minute that gave Gonzaga its first lead of the game, 23-22. His two foul shots 10 seconds later capped a nine-point burst for the freshman, the most of any player on the floor at intermission.

“All year, he’s been our spark,” sophomore guard Josh Perkins said. “For him to come in and change the game like that is unreal.”

Collins and Karnowski finished with 10 points apiece. Collins pulled down four offensive boards, six total. He also had three blocks, including a big swat at the rim that knocked the ball from SDSU’s Chris Howell and spurred Gonzaga to an 8-0 run in the beginning of the second half.