SAN DIEGO – Drew Timme’s moves have worked hundreds of times, in hundreds of venues.
The blacktop back home in Texas? Check. Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center? Sure. The Final Four of the NCAA Tournament? Yep. The flight deck of a Navy vessel docked on the Pacific Ocean? Why not?
While other Gonzaga and Michigan State players struggled to find depth perception, and watched 3-point jumpers knocked wide by wind, Timme fell back on a post game that’s seldom failed the All-American forward in four college seasons.
The senior delivered 22 points and 13 rebounds, and the Zags delivered an impressive second-half comeback that allowed them to disembark the USS Abraham Lincoln with a 64-63 victory over fellow college basketball power Michigan State.
On a picturesque Friday afternoon on Coronado Island, the pageantry and pomp of college basketball’s first aircraft carrier game in a decade delivered an unforgettable experience for the 3,572 fans in attendance. Timme delivered, too, time and again for a Gonzaga team that needed to climb out of a 12-point hole in the second half.
The senior put Gonzaga on his broad shoulders, scoring 14 of his 22 points in the second half while luring Michigan State’s top three players into foul trouble.
Two starters, Mady Sissoko and Joey Hauser, fouled out late in the second half trying to tangle with Timme down low. The Gonzaga senior also put up an impressive effort on the glass, pulling down 13 rebounds to match the second-highest total of his career.
“I thought we were good enough, we were leading this game for, what, 30-something minutes and they were leading for six, it was tied for four,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “We did everything we needed to do to win the game and yet an All-American won the game for them. Give them credit.”
The active-duty military members who reside on the USS Abraham Lincoln didn’t seem to mind sharing their workspace with the nation’s second-ranked college basketball team or its celebrity forward, who was crowded by young sailors looking for a postgame autograph or photo with Timme.
“It’s definitely something different, something you don’t experience every day,” Timme said of the atmosphere and the playing conditions Friday.
“I think growing up, playing in the park is something that helped us and look, they had to play in it, too. Like coach said, it wasn’t the prettiest game to watch but it was, just put your nose in the dirt, keep going and don’t stop, and I thought it was a true test of out grit and heart. I think we did a good job executing well today.”
Timme’s play in the second half was crucial, but his teammates pitched in with defensive stops at key moments and the occasional big shot. With 31 seconds remaining, Julian Strawther was whistled for traveling, giving Michigan State the opportunity to call a timeout and draw up a play, setting up the game’s final possession.
AJ Hoggard took an inbound pass and threw the ball to Tyson Walker, who was guarded tightly by Rasir Bolton.
Unable to shake the Gonzaga defender, Walker passed to Jaden Akins, but Bolton and Strawther collapsed onto the Michigan State guard at the same time and Akins chucked up a 3-pointer that clanked off the back the rim as time expired.
“I think the main focus was just to get some defensive stops,” Bolton said. “I think that was the biggest thing and not worry about offense and scoring, buckle down and get some stops and the offense took care of itself. Drew put us on his back and took us to the win.”
Neither team shot well, but the Zags made 50% of their shots in the second half to round their overall percentage to 41%. They reversed that script for the Spartans, who made 50% in the first half but only 25% in the second . With a slight breeze flowing over the court and depth perception seemingly giving players issues, Gonzaga and Michigan State combined to make just 7 of 34 (20%) from the 3-point line and 32 of 50 (60%) from the free-throw line.
Shots fell at key points for the Zags, though. Bolton, who’d missed his first two 3-point attempts – missing the rim completely on one – lined up his third from the right elbow and watched it drop through the net to tie the game at 59 with 3:59 left. Gonzaga didn’t trail after that, and Timme converted the winning point from the free-throw line.
“Huge shot,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Bolton’s 3-pointer.
“Big shot,” Timme said
Strawther was GU’s second-leading scorer with 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting. The junior wing also had nine rebounds. Transfer guard Malachi Smith was a defensive pest for the Zags, finishing with a game-high six steals to go with five rebounds and five points.
Before fouling out, Sissoko was a handful for Gonzaga’s frontcourt. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward bested his career high of nine points in the first half and finished with 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting to go with nine rebounds
“When I agreed to do this, playing a Tom Izzo team on an aircraft carrier, I kind of thought the game would play out like this,” Few said.
“Really proud of how we responded and happy to get out of here with a win.”