Chet Holmgren needed 27 minutes of playing time to put his name in Gonzaga’s record book – and beyond.
The 7-foot freshman demonstrated why he was the nation’s top-ranked recruit with 14 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists in a 97-63 victory over Dixie State on Tuesday.
Holmgren’s seven blocks matched Przemek Karnowski’s single-game record in the Mark Few coaching era since the 1999-2000 season. Karnowski swatted seven shots versus Saint Mary’s in 2014.
Wait, there’s more. Holmgren is the first player in the past 25 years with at least 10 points, 10 boards, five assists and five blocks in his Division I debut, according to an ESPN stats and info tweet.
Holmgren’s performance, the team’s balanced scoring and a decisive second-half run carried Gonzaga through an up-and-down effort in the season opener for both teams.
One of Holmgren’s few mistakes was walking off the court after going through the handshake line and having to be summoned back for the team’s traditional postgame huddle at center court.
Holmgren was a game-changer at both ends of the floor.
“Sometimes they drive in there and it’s kind of like you know it’s going to happen,” said senior guard Rasir Bolton, who contributed 15 points and three assists. “Just waiting for him to clean it up and get the ball out so we can get going.”
The level of competition rises quickly Saturday when the Zags entertain No. 5 Texas with head coach Mark Few set to return from a three-game suspension. GU will have plenty to work on before that showdown after allowing the Trailblazers to slice a 20-point first-half lead to 10 early in the second half.
The numbers were dismal for Dixie State early. It took the visitors from St. George, Utah, 5-plus minutes before their first field goal. They missed 12 of their first 13 shots. Their second bucket came with 8:30 left in the half.
They were at a turnover-per-minute pace through 11 minutes and most of their shots – open or contested – were way off target or swatted away by Holmgren.
Gonzaga’s defense was on point, but its offense didn’t fully capitalize. The Zags coughed up 11 first-half turnovers and settled for a 40-25 halftime lead.
The Trailblazers continued their run into the second half, closing within 49-39 with 14:05 remaining. Gonzaga answered with an 11-0 run, led by sophomore wing Julian Strawther’s seven points and one assist to pull away.
“There was definitely some adversity in the first half, for sure, and that stretch in the second half they made a nice run at us,” acting head coach Brian Michaelson said. “The guys stuck together, stuck to the game plan and the things we were talking about during timeouts, so I was proud of that.
“Again, people are probably sick of hearing coach (Few) and I talk about it, but it was to be expected a little bit with the youth that we have and so many new guys. It wasn’t going to be smooth sailing all the time like that group was last year for long, long stretches.”
Gonzaga heated up from the field, hitting at a 62.5% clip in the closing 20 minutes, but struggled again from distance (6 of 21).
“The turnover plague, especially in the first half, was frustrating to us,” Michaelson said. “Unfortunately, a lot of those were the bigs. That’s something we’re going to have to address and clean up. We only had four turnovers in the second half and that led to much better offensive production.”
Bolton hit 3 of 4 3-pointers, but the rest of the team was just 3 of 17 as Gonzaga relied on 54 paint points.
Holmgren wasn’t the only Zag with an eye-catching stat line. Strawther posted his first double-double with 17 points and 10 boards. Junior forward Anton Watson added seven assists, five points, five steals and three rebounds.
“He makes things happen,” Michaelson said of Watson. “We needed him in there defensively. They were rolling through multiple different lineups. He’s really versatile. He truly guards 1 through 5. He’s a great playmaker. That’s the guy we’ve known for a long time.”
Freshman guard Nolan Hickman had 11 points in his debut and freshman Hunter Sallis added nine.
Cameron Gooden led Dixie State with 15 points and five assists.