If this is what a lull looks like for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, it should be a good omen for the rest of the 2021-22 season.
For a team with Gonzaga’s standards, Monday’s contest against Alcorn State was by no means the epitome of perfection. Far from it. The Bulldogs were too cavalier with the ball on a night that saw them turn it over more times than the opponent and botched defensive assignments allowed the Braves to score 36 points in the second half, just three fewer than Gonzaga.
All that considered, less than 48 hours removed from beating No. 5 Texas to notch one of the most significant wins in program history, the Bulldogs were able to come down from their high and finish off an 84-57 blowout of the SWAC Braves at McCarthey Athletic Center.
A four-game home stand to open the season concludes on Friday when No. 1 Gonzaga (3-0) hosts Bellarmine (0-2) at 6 p.m. (KHQ). The Knights play a mid-week contest against GU’s West Coast Conference rival, Saint Mary’s, before making a trip north to Spokane.
Although Gonzaga had its lapses on a night that saw them turn it over 13 times while allowing the Braves to shoot 50% from the field in the second half, the Bulldogs shot nearly 59% themselves, out-rebounded Alcorn State by 12 and largely avoided any kind of post-Texas hangover.
Julian Strawther scored a career-high 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting and 3 of 4 from three-point range, while Hunter Sallis had a career night in his third college game, scoring 16 points on 6 of 9 shooting.
“I spent some time talking about that, too, and I think they really responded and heard the message,” Mark Few said, addressing the team’s response to the Texas win. “We showed them some clips of just how hard Alcorn plays and wanted them to match that kind of effort and that kind of intensity. So I think they did a good job.
“There was a little, probably, mental gymnastics in there to come down off that big win. But we talked about how special each of these games are, to be able to get out and play in front of this crowd and just savor those moments,”
Strawther was aggressive from the onset, making a short jumper for Gonzaga’s first basket before extending his range to knock down consecutive 3-pointers inside the game’s first five minutes.
The sophomore from Las Vegas continued to hunt shots on the offensive end, finishing the first half with 15 points and matching his career-high with a dunk on the first possession of the second half. The 6-foot-7 wing made a baseline cut before receiving a backdoor pass from Drew Timme before finishing at the rim.
“These guys believe in me and they were finding me, open shots,” Strawther said. “I’ve got to give it to them, they were just finding me in my spots and I’ve got the confidence to let it fly.”
On the heels of a career-high 37-point outing, Timme played a different role for the Bulldogs against Alcorn State and finished with a game-high six assists. The junior forward/center was still able to finish in double figures – one of four GU players to do so – and scored 10 points.
Freshman Chet Holmgren scored 11 points on an efficient 4 of 6 from the field and added three more blocked shots to his season total. Holmgren also had six rebounds, four assists and four turnovers.
Gonzaga assisted on 26 of 34 made baskets, with five different players dishing out at least four assists. An Alcorn State team that was playing the final contest of a four-game swing didn’t look fatigued and employed an aggressive approach on the defensive end, coming up with nine total steals – as many as Dixie State and Texas had against Gonzaga the first two games of the season.
“We rested a lot of our starters and Alcorn, I can’t tell you how experienced, how quick they are and how quick-handed they are,” Few said. “They don’t quit and kept playing hard, so they were able to knock some things away from us, but again by and large you can’t be too upset with a 30-point win.”
Two days after Gonzaga’s starters logged heavy minutes, the Bulldogs were able to disperse playing time to 11 scholarship players Monday night, leading by as many as 35 points in the second half. Holmgren played a team-high 25 minutes, but nine players registered at least 12 minutes and two substitutes – Sallis and fellow freshman Nolan Hickman – each played nearly 25 minutes.
“I thought especially that first half was exactly what we were looking to accomplish,” Few said. “We had a great defensive effort again. I think we’ve had pretty much three halves to start this thing, just excellent on the defensive end. Just really adhering to what the game plan was and driving percentages down.”
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