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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga-Texas Tech takeaways: Without Terrence Shannon Jr., Red Raiders offense stymied by Zags

Texas Tech Red Raiders guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (1) reacts from the bench against Gonzaga during the first half of a college basketball game on Saturday, Dec 18, 2021, at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Ariz.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PHOENIX – Gonzaga closed out the Top 25 portion of its nonconference schedule the same way the Bulldogs started it: with a convincing, wire-to-wire victory against a Big 12 opponent from the state of Texas.

Saturday’s 69-55 win over No. 25 Texas Tech gave the Bulldogs the program’s first victory over the Red Raiders and bumped Gonzaga to 3-2 on the season against Top 25 opposition.

The three wins, over then-No. 5 Texas, No. 2 UCLA and No. 25 Texas Tech, came by a combined 56 points – an average margin of 18.6 per game – while the two losses, to then-No. 5 Duke and No. 16 Alabama, came by just 12 combined points. In total, the Zags finish plus-44 in five nonconference games against the Top 25.

Gonzaga has played at least one Top 25 team during nonconference play in nine of the past 11 seasons, but the Bulldogs haven’t seen five since 2010-11. Gonzaga went 1-4 that season against Top 25 opponents, finishing with a minus-32 margin – yet another sign of the program’s growth over the past decade under Mark Few.

CBS Sports writer/analyst Matt Norlander pointed out on Twitter on Saturday the Zags have won 73% of their games against Top 25 foes since March 2016. Gonzaga’s gone 24-9 against the Top 25 during that span and the Bulldogs have posted a 12-3 record in its past 15 games.

Below are three takeaways from Saturday’s 14-point victory against Texas Tech at the Footprint Center.

Shannon Jr.’s absence looms large for Texas Tech

Terrence Shannon Jr. was in full uniform when Texas Tech players arrived on the court for pregame warmups less than two hours until tipoff. The team’s leading scorer went through an individual warmup routine, jogging the perimeter of the court, first without a basketball and then while dribbling one, before stretching on the baseline as his teammates conducted other drills.

According to the CBS broadcast, Shannon Jr. was available to play against Gonzaga, but the Red Raiders chose to exercise caution when it came to the preseason All-Big-12 player who’d left a game four days earlier with back spasms.

“We were hoping he was going to play,” Texas Tech coach Mark Adams said. “He was about 50-50 before the game and just didn’t feel like he could go. Wasn’t going to be anywhere close to 100%.”

It’s fair to wonder how Saturday’s showdown would’ve played out with Shannon in the fold.

The Red Raiders never settled into an offensive rhythm without their explosive wing, who’s averaged 14.3 points since passing on the NBA draft and returning to Lubbuck for his junior season.

The Red Raiders were held to a season-low 55 points along with their second-lowest field goal percentage (37.5%) of the 2021-22 campaign. Shannon Jr. might not have erased all of that, but he could’ve provided some form of offensive aid to a Texas Tech team that had multiple scoreless stretches of three minutes or longer and went 4:34 without a field goal late in the second half.

“Well, really for any team that’s got a player with the talent and caliber of a TJ Shannon, it’s going to make a difference,” Adams said. “A guy that would’ve been drafted in the NBA, second round at least, decides to come back to school. He’s a problem for other teams and he’s really big for us. He makes a big difference for us on the offensive end, so we obviously missed him (Saturday).”

Texas Tech wasn’t Gonzaga’s first ranked opponent to play the Bulldogs without a key piece on the floor. UCLA might have been better-equipped to handle Gonzaga with forward Cody Riley, who had a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double in last year’s Final Four but missed the rematch with a sprained knee ligament.

Texas’ frontcourt was shorthanded when it played Gonzaga, missing 6-9, 225-pound Vanderbilt transfer forward Dylan Disu, who’s played in just one game this season for the Longhorns.

“Obviously missing Shannon is huge for them,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Texas Tech. “The other guys stepped up and were very, very capable. (Adonis) Arms hit some nice 3s and they really showed their athleticism and just how quick and good they are at getting to the glass. Even their bigs stepped out and hit some shots, which we hadn’t seen.

D tightens up

Only some of Texas Tech’s offensive deficiencies can be attributed to Shannon’s absence. Gonzaga’s stingy defense will take credit for the rest.

To put the feat in context, Gonzaga has played 18 games against Power Five opposition since it last held a foe from the major conferences (Texas A&M, 2019) under 55 points in a game. Prior to that, major conference opponents had scored at least 55 points in 53 consecutive games, dating back to a Dec. 8, 2012, game against Kansas State.

In other words, over the past 71 games against major conference teams, GU has conceded fewer than 55 points on just one occasion.

The Red Raiders are known for being disruptive on the defensive end of the floor, clogging up passing lanes, poking at the ball and turning the opponent over at a high volume. But the Bulldogs were relatively careful with the ball on their end of the floor, turning it over 10 times, and actually forced the Red Raiders into 12 of their own turnovers.

“They don’t foul, they’re really good one-on-one defenders and with the shot-blocking inside, those guards have a lot of confidence,” Adams said. “They can put pressure knowing they’ve got some help at the basket. So, their shot-blocking, their length and I think their ability to – they don’t overextend themselves, they don’t gamble a lot.

“So there’s a lot of discipline that I see and respect and appreciate and I hope we can get better at. They’re just a very solid team at both ends of the floor.”

Few said Gonzaga came out of the game with a defensive efficiency rating of 0.85.

“I’m happy, very happy with that,” he said.

Words of wisdom

Knowing the nature of the challenge that awaited Texas Tech in Phoenix, Adams made sure not to leave any stone unturned when preparing for Saturday’s game.

That included a phone call to mentor and first-year Texas coach Chris Beard, who’d spent five years prior building Texas Tech’s program into a Big 12 contender and national powerhouse.

Beard’s second game as Texas’ coach was a mid-November showdown in Spokane between Longhorn and Bulldog teams respectively ranked No. 5 and No. 1 at the time.

Unable to spring an upset of the top-ranked Bulldogs, the Longhorns fell into an early hole, trailed by 20 points at halftime and ultimately lost 86-74 on a night in which Gonzaga’s Drew Timme had a career-high 37 points.

Adams phoned Beard last week, hoping the Texas coach could serve up a few helpful scouting tips as Texas Tech geared up for the marquee game of its nonconference schedule.

Both coaches were on Texas Tech’s staff in 2018-19 – Beard as the head coach, Adams as a top assistant and defensive guru – when the Red Raiders stunned the top-seeded Bulldogs in the Elite Eight. But they met the same fate against Gonzaga this season, each losing by double digits.

“I did, yep we did,” Adams said when asked if he’d communicated with Beard. “And again, a lot of mutual respect for Gonzaga. He said that, he gave me a few ideas and I thought they were helpful. One thing he did say was you better get ready, they’re a very good team. So, we talked quite often and he shared a few things with me.”

It’s fair to presume a portion of that conversation centered around Timme.

Learning from Texas’ mishaps, Texas Tech employed a defensive scheme that prevented Gonzaga from running its offense through the preseason All-American forward, who scored just seven points on four field goal attempts.

That philosophy left the Red Raiders vulnerable elsewhere, however, and Gonzaga made a season-high 13 3-pointers to emerge with its 10th win of the season.