BOISE – At one point, it seemed that Gonzaga’s big run to open the first half against Ohio State might lead to something much, much bigger.
Perhaps another whipping of the Buckeyes, who came into a second-round NCAA Tournament matchup with the Zags trying to avenge an embarrassing 27-point loss at the PK80 Tournament in Portland.
Gonzaga’s dominant start ran out of fuel in Saturday’s rematch, but if nothing else, the 15-0 lead that was manufactured in the opening 5-plus minutes gave the Bulldogs a sweet – and important – insurance policy in a game that could have slipped out of their hands midway through the second half.
“I guess our defense set the tone early during the game,” forward Johnathan Williams said. “We started hitting good shots, the ball was moving, it wasn’t sticking.”
The Bulldogs played swarming defense – often forcing the Buckeyes to take the most difficult shot on the court, or swiping the ball away from them before they could even get anything up.
OSU in turn missed its first seven shots, though at times it felt as though the basket was their worst enemy. At least three of those attempts rolled around the lip of the rim before falling back out and into the hands of a GU rebounder.
“I think we missed four point-blank layups that we don’t normally,” OSU coach Chris Holtmann said. “We’re going to miss a few in the game, but not four in a matter of the first four minutes.
“They were making plays, too. Gonzaga was good, too.”
The Bulldogs forced four turnovers during the opening stretch – which lasted 5 minutes, 40 seconds before Jae’Sean Tate put the Buckeyes on the board with a 3-pointer – and forward Rui Hachimura pogoed into the air to block two OSU shots.
For much of the 340-second assault, Hachimura was also the one contributing the offense. He made two jump shots and bulled his way to the rim for a layup, also adding a free throw, for seven of GU’s 15 points. Zach Norvell, the Zags’ starter and closer in this game, delivered the game’s first two buckets, both 3-pointers.
The Zags insist the spurt was inspired by hard-nosed defense.
“I know defensively, we took it seriously,” guard Josh Perkins said.
“They didn’t get any good looks early, and we got great looks on our end. So if we keep doing that, we should keep winning. But that team was tough, they gave us all we could handle. But we persevered through adversity and came out with the win, thankfully.”
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