PORTLAND – Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren had decent stats in the first half, but not their typical efficiency.
Timme struggled at the free-throw line – and scolded himself for it later in postgame interviews – and airballed an open 3-pointer. Holmgren was just 2 of 5 from the field and 1 of 3 at the foul line.
Everything changed in the second half for Gonzaga’s two All-Americans. So did Georgia State’s frontcourt options as the game progressed in terms of defending the duo.
Timme scored 22 of his 32 points in the second half and equaled his career high with 13 rebounds. Holmgren made 6 of 8 shots in the closing half and finished with 19 points, 17 rebounds, seven blocks and five assists.
Georgia State lost senior forward Eliel Nsoseme to an apparent knee injury with 6:20 left in the first half. He didn’t return. Jalen Thomas was sidelined with three fouls at the time and eventually fouled out.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Holmgren said of Nsoseme’s injury. “You never want to see that with anybody. I know I raised my hands in confusion when the ref stopped the game. I didn’t realize that he went down with an injury, I thought he had just slipped. That’s unacceptable on my part.
“You hate to see it, especially for a senior like that. You wish he would get to fight for the rest of the game. We can’t let things like that impact what we have to do. We have to go play our game and that’s what we did.”
Timme and Holmgren dominated the second half, often against smaller defenders. Holmgren’s seven blocks moved his season total to 111, six behind Brandon Clarke’s single-season record. Timme connected on 9 of 12 shots.
“It’s a credit to this team and just the bond we have,” Timme said. “They trusted me when I was down, and just how we trust anyone when they’re not having the best start. It’s just what we do.”
Panthers coach Rob Lanier, without Nsoseme and Thomas, turned to seldom-used forwards Kaleb Scott and freshman Chien-Hao Ma for minutes.
“They’re formidable,” Lanier said of Gonzaga’s forwards. “They create challenges for you. Our lack of discipline at times played into that some, but I had confidence in the guys that went in. Credit to Gonzaga’s front-line guys. They’re really good, gifted, great footwork and length and stuff that you cannot replicate on the practice floor.”
Zags claim 13th straight NCAA first-round win
Among Gonzaga’s numerous ongoing streaks in the regular season, WCC Tournament and NCAA Tournament, coach Mark Few is particularly proud of one that reached 13 consecutive years on Thursday.
The Zags earned their 13th consecutive first-round win in March Madness, a streak that started after Stephen Curry’s 40-point eruption carried 10th-seeded Davidson past No. 7 GU 82-76 in 2008.
Only Kansas, which has won 15 consecutive NCAA openers after beating Texas Southern on Thursday night, has a longer active streak than Gonzaga.
“One of the hardest things to do in our sport is just get a win in the NCAA Tournament,” Few said. “We certainly earned one (today). Georgia State deserves a ton of credit, but I’m proud to keep that streak alive. We’ve got a lot of great streaks that these (teams) have been able to accomplish and it’s something that I take great pride in.”
Gonzaga’s average winning margin in five openers as a No. 1 seed is 25.6 points. The closest call was a 64-58 victory over Southern in Salt Lake City in 2013. GU’s margin of victory in its past 13 openers, including two years as a No. 11 seed, is 17.2 points.
“It did a little bit,” said Few, when asked if the Georgia State game reminded him of the 2013 game versus Southern.