Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Malachi Smith finding comfort zone in Gonzaga’s offense, defense

Nov. 8, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 8, 2022 at 8:35 p.m.

To do this Gonzaga rewind properly, it would require writing at 100 miles per hour to mimic the Zags’ swift pace in the first half against North Florida, but the typos would outnumber the words in this space.

So we’ll slow down to normal rewind operating speed while taking a deeper look at Chattanooga transfer Malachi Smith’s emerging presence at both ends of the court and Hunter Sallis deftly handling multiple job descriptions in the Zags’ 104-63 rout of the Ospreys.

Smith’s performance ‘great sign’

Smith started 59 of 60 games in his past two seasons at Chattanooga. He put up huge stats (18.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists), hit nearly 40% behind the 3-point line, made frequent trips to the free-throw line and averaged nearly 36 minutes.

The sturdy, 6-foot-4 guard likely won’t replicate those numbers at Gonzaga with a handful of players capable of averaging double figures, but it’s easy to see Smith’s natural scoring ability after just three games, including two exhibitions.

Shortly after checking in early in the first half, the transfer scored in transition, powered through a defender for another bucket and drained a 3-pointer, all while doing a solid job defending Jose Placer, North Florida’s top returning scorer. Smith produced nine points and four rebounds in 15-plus first-half minutes. He finished with a team-high 30 minutes, 15 points, six boards, three assists and zero turnovers.

“It’s a great sign Malachi is getting more and more comfortable out there and being more assertive,” coach Mark Few said.

Smith debuted with five points and four boards in 17-plus minutes in the exhibition loss to Tennessee. He followed that with 16 points and six rebounds against Warner Pacific.

In the second half, Smith promptly grabbed a rebound and assisted on Rasir Bolton’s 3-pointer soon after checking in. Smith later weaved through defenders to finish on the break.

“He just has a knack for scoring,” said Drew Timme, something of an authority on the subject. “He knows the positions he needs to get in, he just knows how to move without the ball, knows how to play with the ball.

“I think he’s exactly what we knew we were getting when we got him. He’s a player of the year in conference caliber of player. He is that good. You can just see him not thinking as much and just playing.”

Smith, the Southern Conference Player of the Year last season, made 7 of 10 shots. He didn’t attempt a free throw, but he had five in the two exhibitions.

“He shot about 40% from 3 his whole career; hopefully, we can tap into more of that,” Few said. “He’s very good at sliding by (defenders) and getting to his finishes. He had a good night defensively. He’s kind of rounded himself into being someone we can count on to maybe guard somebody’s better players. He guarded 1 through 5, I think.”

Sallis shows off versatility

Sallis, like Smith, was impactful on both ends. The sophomore guard smoothly handled defending a point guard or power forward. He filled in again at point guard, played on the wing and was a small-ball ‘4’ for a segment of the second half.

He chipped in 10 points, six rebounds, two steals, two assists in nearly 25 minutes.

“Hunter was more assertive on the offensive end,” Few said.

The 6-5 Sallis entered with 14:14 remaining in the opening half and drew a foul, hit a layup and grabbed a rebound in 50 seconds. Bolton was the primary point guard with Nolan Hickman on the bench with two fouls, but Sallis later had several stretches in which he ran the offense – and looked comfortable doing so.

“We’re asking him to be a secondary point guard when Nolan is off the floor and ‘Ras’ is not out there,” junior wing Julian Strawther said. “We’re asking him to be one of our best defenders on the ball, wreak havoc, asking him to crash the glass and be a great cutter.

“We’re asking him to do a lot of things. He’s attacking that role head on. I’m just proud of how he’s handled it.”

Asked about the bench’s 39-point contribution against North Florida, Few noted, “in many cases, I don’t really consider those guys bench guys. They just have to fill in because we have those veteran guys that are starting.

“It’s definitely something nice to have, and they’re all different players, and clearly different from that starting group.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Follow along with the Zags

Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.