The circumstances were not anything close to usual, but Saturday night’s final home game for Gonzaga ended like every other game the Zags have played this season. With a win. And a lot of praise, along with some smart questions, from the ESPN broadcast duo of Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham.
Like the 6,000 who would usually attend Senior Night, Flemming and Farnham were not in the building. Instead, they described the action in Gonzaga’s 86-69 victory over Loyola Marymount from their California homes.
What they saw …
• Yes, it was Senior Night, odd as that seemed without fans in the stands. And the emphasis from the ESPN duo was on Corey Kispert, making his last start after four years playing in the McCarthey Athletic Center.
In fact, Farnham, while talking about Kispert’s legacy, gave the Zags’ leading scorer possibly the best compliment a player can receive.
“Corey Kispert is going to go down as one of the all-time great leaders in Gonzaga (history),” Farnham said.
Later, he passed along a stat from ESPN’s research that explains, in numbers, what the eye test shows.
After saying there have been 100,000 Division I basketball players in the past 25 years, Farnham dropped this: “Nobody has a better winning percentage than Corey Kispert. That’s remarkable.
“No. 1 of 100,000,” Flemming remarked. “That’s pretty good.”
After taking just four shots in the first half, Kispert asserted himself after halftime as the Zags’ efficiently pulled away despite the Lions (12-8 overall, 7-5 in West Coast Conference play) hard-nosed, slow-paced game plan.
When he left with 2 minutes, 13 seconds left, Kispert took a 24-point, five-rebound night with him to the bench – after a gantlet of hugs from everyone within shouting distance.
“It’s been Kispert’s night,” Flemming said.
• The Lions’ inside emphasis and, at times, dominance were something Flemming and Farnham discussed often. Appropriately so.
As Farnham pointed out more than once, it wasn’t as much what Loyola Marymount was doing as what it portended. In the part of the season that matters. The NCAA Tournament.
That was Farnham’s point. He wondered what could happen if the Zags (24-0, 15-0) ran into a team that played through its posts and forced the Bulldogs to deal with size and strength for 40 minutes.
• Farnham added an important comment early in the game that many might have overlooked. It was “not only Senior Night,” it was also more than likely Jalen Suggs’ final game in the Kennel as well.
If it was, he played 12 games in McCarthey – none with more than 200 fans in the stands – and will leave for the NBA draft. He should be a top-five pick, according to Farnham.
In his last Spokane game, the freshman wasn’t at his offensive best, hitting just 3 of 7 attempts for 12 points. He also had four turnovers to go with his seven assists.
But he contributed two steals and innumerable touches, as GU’s defense forced 24 turnovers.
What we saw …
• As good as Farnham is, and he’s one of ESPN best analysts, he can sometimes obsess too much on an issue that isn’t really an issue. In this one, it was the Zags’ turnovers. Yes, they had 16 in the win over Santa Clara on Thursday. And yes, they average 12.3 turnovers a game, maybe a bit high – unless you consider they play at one of the quickest paces in the nation.
Fourth, actually, according to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo metric. That’s part of why they score a nation-leading 1.259 points per possession, again adjusted according to Pomeroy.
But when they turned the ball over twice in a row in the first half, Farnham used it as a launching pad to what he termed a looseness with the ball.
“Turnovers have been an issue, Dave,” Farnham said after Joel Ayayi caught a wayward pass with his foot on the sideline. “Now they turned the ball over too frequently the last time they played. … Already in this game, they’ve kind of been a little loose with it. If you’re a national audience, checking in, (wondering) how good the No. 1 team in the country (and) are watching how loose they are with the basketball right now, you’re going, ‘Are they really as good as advertised?’ ”
The soliloquy took up a decent chunk of the action and seemed a bit out of place.
Why? The answer was a graphic that flashed on the bottom of the screen just before Farnham changed gears. It listed Gonzaga with two turnovers in 8 minutes. That was a 10-per-game average.
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