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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga’s defense delivers again in Sweet 16 win over Creighton

March 28, 2021 Updated Sun., March 28, 2021 at 9:40 p.m.

Creighton forward Damien Jefferson, left, drives on Gonzaga forward Anton Watson during the Sweet 16 Sunday.  (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)
Creighton forward Damien Jefferson, left, drives on Gonzaga forward Anton Watson during the Sweet 16 Sunday. (Michael Conroy/Associated Press)

Gonzaga coach Mark Few lost some sleep Saturday night, pondering Creighton’s 3-point prowess and assortment of offensive schemes.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott might be the one tossing and turning Sunday night after his Bluejays found it tough to score in Gonzaga’s 83-65 victory.

Few was literally three seconds into his post-game remarks when he pointed out “once again I really thought it was our defense that made the difference.”

The numbers back Few up as Gonzaga held its third straight NCAA Tournament foe below their season average. Creighton came up 11 points short of its 76.3-point average, even with a bit of a late scoring run. Oklahoma, which averages 74.1 points, managed 71 against Gonzaga. Norfolk State was held to 55 points, nearly 19 points under its normal output.

It isn’t easy for Gonzaga’s defense to get its due when the offense has been rewriting record books this season.

“I think we’re very overlooked defensively,” Zags junior guard Andrew Nembhard said. “When we have that side of the ball clicking is when we’re really at our best. They had some great offense and they were sticking with us at first, but we got a few kills (three consecutive stops), and that led to our run and our lead.”

Creighton’s 3-point-heavy offense never materialized. Point guard Marcus Zegarowski made 3 of 7, but his teammates were just 2 of 18. The Bluejays average 9.6 made 3s per game.

Zegarowski had 19 points, Denzel Mahoney 13 and Christian Bishop 12. Nobody else scored more than six points. Mitch Ballock, who shoots 39.5% on 3-pointers, was 1 of 7. Damien Jefferson, a 52% shooter from the field, was 3 of 10.

Creighton gave the Zags problems early with dribble penetration, a pair of Zegarowski 3-pointers and on the offensive glass.

The Bluejays were within 27-25 midway, but it started to unravel when Zegarowski subbed out for a short rest. Creighton missed nine straight shot attempts and the lull continued after Zegarowski returned.

Gonzaga took control at 37-27 and pulled away in the second half.

“We’ve had excellent, off-the-chart performances and some terrific halves,” Few said. “They (the players) do a great job with their attention to detail for the most part. They’ve grown in that area. I think Jalen (Suggs) has really grown.

“We’ve got big wings and big, strong, aggressive guards like Jalen and Andrew so we can switch a lot. Drew (Timme) can move his feet. Anton (Watson) can move his feet. So it’s always nice to have that option to be able to switch to go with all of your other coverages.”

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