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Gonzaga Basketball

No. 1 Gonzaga rebounds from shaky first half, unloads on No. 16 Georgia State in second for 93-72 win

PORTLAND – Mark Few thought Georgia State was undervalued by the NCAA’s selection committee, earning a No. 16 seed when the Panthers probably deserved better by the Gonzaga coach’s estimation.

It took a good 30 minutes, but Few’s Bulldogs eventually demonstrated why they weren’t overvalued as the tournament’s top overall seed, briefly trailing Georgia State in the second half before unloading on the Panthers to pull away for a 93-72 win in front of 14,353 fans at the Moda Center.

The win sets up Gonzaga (27-3) with a chance to make its NCAA-leading seventh consecutive Sweet 16. The Bulldogs will face No. 9 Memphis (22-10) in Saturday’s Round of 32 game. Coach Penny Hardaway and the Tigers advanced with a 64-53 win over No. 8 Boise State early Thursday afternoon.

Few’s comments about Georgia State – “this is not a 16 seed,” he told reporters Wednesday afternoon – seemed to carry some validity throughout the first half, and a decent chunk of the second, of Thursday’s game.

For a total of 17:17, Gonzaga was either trailing or tied with the Panthers, surprising a national audience that probably expected the Bulldogs to cruise from opening tip to final buzzer.

“I think it’s really, really important to be the hunter and not the hunted,” Few said. “I thought we were trying to be that in the first half. We just weren’t converting very good. It’s a physical game. Again, they got some experienced guards that can really, really play with ball screens and make plays and hit tough 2s.”

The tenor of the game changed around the 10-minute mark of the second half, when the Bulldogs went on a 21-0 run that saw them hold Georgia State scoreless for nearly 5½ minutes. By that point, Gonzaga’s offense had already started to establish more consistency, primarily through the low-post footwork and finishing of All-American forward Drew Timme.

After scoring 10 points in the first half, the junior had four consecutive baskets early in the second half, falling back on his usual array of spin moves, pump fakes and jump hooks to finish effortlessly over and around Georgia State defenders.

Timme scored 22 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 32, recovering from a pedestrian first half that saw him make 3 of 7 shots from the field and just 4 of 9 from the free-throw line. He’s the first player in Gonzaga history to score at least 30 points in multiple NCAA Tournament games, accomplishing the feat last season against Oklahoma.

“I guess I just had some jitters,” Timme said. “It’s March, you know. My first true March, so I was a little nervous, I guess. Credit to my teammates for telling me to keep going.

“These guys, everyone in there said you’ve got to be you. You’ve just got to post up and get to the basket and do what you do best. … I was pretty mad at myself for free throws, obviously. It’s unacceptable. Nothing but just confidence coming from my guys and coach (Few), and that really helped me just get back to doing what I do.”

Gonzaga’s jitters were contagious in the first half, perhaps fittingly so for a team that brought back only two starters from last year’s national runner-up. Of the Bulldogs’ eight rotation players, only Andrew Nembhard had played a NCAA Tournament game in front of a full crowd – though not while wearing a Gonzaga uniform – and four players were making their tournament debuts.

The Bulldogs went through an 8-minute scoreless stretch in the first half that saw them miss 12 consecutive shots from the field. During their extended scoring run in the second, they made 8 of 10 shots to lead by as many as 26 points with 1:51 remaining.

“We gave them a lot of easy buckets in the paint and a lot of fouls,” Georgia State’s Kane Williams said. “Those fouls kind of bit us. We just couldn’t overcome after that. We kept fighting. That’s all we can do.”

Timme, who also had 13 rebounds, was one of two Bulldogs to register a double-double. In his NCAA Tournament debut, freshman phenom Chet Holmgren was superb on both ends of the floor, scoring 19 points to go with 17 rebounds, seven blocked shots and five assists.

The Minnesota native has 111 blocks on the season, needing only six more to match the Gonzaga single-season record set by Brandon Clarke.

“That wasn’t fun watching them on film,” Georgia State coach Rob Lanier said of Timme and Holmgren. “I saw Chet quite a bit on the AAU circuit with his team. So I knew the size and the skill. Obviously, these days you can’t miss these guys with all the video and stuff that’s out there.

“But it really is impressive, the footwork, the skill, and knowing that people are gunning for these guys. This really is a special program. I’ve been in leagues with Kansas and Kentucky and Duke, and I understand what it’s like to be in a league with teams that are always the target, everybody wants to beat.”

Nembhard added nine points and 11 assists, and Rasir Bolton and Anton Watson scored 10 points apiece.

Georgia State dealt with all the challenges of facing a No. 1 seed. The Panthers encountered more attrition when starting forward Eliel Nsoseme left the game in the first half with an apparent left knee injury and never returned. Starting center Jalen Thomas picked up three early fouls, eventually fouling out of the game, and reserve forwards Kaleb Scott and Ja’Heim Hudson also fouled out.

The Panthers were led by Corey Allen’s 16 points, though GU held the starting guard to 5-of-19 shooting from the field. The Panthers finished just 23 of 70 (32%) from the field.