Welcome to the December portion of Gonzaga’s basketball schedule when the Zags reintroduce themselves and their fans to their home court.
Gonzaga (5-3) hasn’t played at the McCarthey Athletic Center since routing North Florida in the season opener Nov. 7. The Zags enjoyed boisterous support from a record crowd of 12,333 at the Spokane Arena in an 88-72 victory over then-No. 4 Kentucky two weeks ago, but Monday’s matchup against Kent State marks just the second game at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
That’s about to change.
Kent State is the first of three straight at the Kennel, matching Montana/Eastern Oregon/Pepperdine later this month and San Diego/Saint Mary’s/Chicago State to close the regular season as Gonzaga’s longest homestands. The Zags have won 68 straight at home, the longest streak in the nation. Texas Tech is next at 25.
The Zags will have a special guest on hand as they honor Kelly Olynyk, who will become the fourth player to have his jersey displayed in the Kennel, joining Frank Burgess, John Stockton and Adam Morrison. Dan Dickau and Courtney Vandersloot will be honored later this season.
Olynyk, coming off a redshirt year, led Gonzaga to its first No. 1 ranking and first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while earning first-team All-America honors in 2013. The Utah Jazz forward is in his 10th NBA season and has a short break before Wednesday’s home game vs. Golden State.
The Zags, meanwhile, are trying to get back on track after Friday’s disheartening 64-63 loss to Baylor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Bears scored the last eight points and will almost certainly knock the 14th-ranked Zags down several spots when the latest AP poll is released Monday morning.
It won’t be an easy task against Kent State, the preseason Mid-American Conference favorites and one of the top defensive teams in the nation.
The Golden Flashes (6-2) excel in several aspects that have been troublesome at times for Gonzaga. They rank sixth in turnover margin (plus 7.4), eighth in steals (11.4) and tied for 10th in turnovers forced per game (20).
They’re 17th in field-goal percentage defense (36.6%) and tied for 46th in scoring defense (61.9).
The Zags are No. 2 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, but they were held to 66 points or less by Michigan State, Purdue and Baylor. They scored 74 points in a blowout loss to Texas, which is No. 3 in Ken Pom’s defensive efficiency ratings.
Gonzaga has had four games with at least 18 turnovers, two of those were against Baylor and Texas. The Zags are averaging 81.1 points, down from 83.7 prior to Friday’s loss.
College of Charleston, in a 74-72 home win, was the only Kent State opponent to score more than 68 points. The Golden Flashes led No. 1 Houston in the final minute before falling 49-44. The undefeated Cougars shot 32% from the field, including 2 of 17 on 3-pointers.
The Golden Flashes also slowed down Portland, 77-65, holding the Pilots 17 points under their season average. Kent State led 38-24 at half.
Kent State is led by fifth-year senior guards Sincere Carry and Malique Jacobs. Carry, the reigning MAC player of the year, averages 18.5 points. Jacobs, who averages 12.9 points, was a preseason second-team All-MAC selection. Both were on the conference’s All-Defensive team last season.
Starting guard Giovanni Santiago (8.9 points, 39% on 3-pointers) is in his fourth season with the Golden Flashes. Forward Miryne Thomas, a transfer from Ball State, has played 105 collegiate games. He averages 10.9 points and 5.6 boards.
Sophomore center Cli’Ron Hornbeak, a reserve last season, has moved into the starting lineup. He’s made 18 of 23 field-goal attempts and contributes 6.7 points and 6.9 rebounds.
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