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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga-Michigan State rewind: Drew Timme’s impact on Armed Forces victory went beyond scoring, rebounding

Nov. 12, 2022 Updated Sat., Nov. 12, 2022 at 11:31 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, left, and guard Julian Strawther receive the championship trophy after defeating Michigan State 64-63 during the Armed Forces Classic Friday in San Diego.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, left, and guard Julian Strawther receive the championship trophy after defeating Michigan State 64-63 during the Armed Forces Classic Friday in San Diego. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

SAN DIEGO – Mark Few and Drew Timme assured they’d never forget the sights and sounds of Friday’s Armed Forces Classic.

There were so many to choose from you couldn’t go wrong picking a favorite on a night that celebrated America’s armed forces, and to a lesser extent, the return of college basketball.

A memorable pregame flyover led things off. Two hulking military helicopters – one carrying an American flag – and a pair of fighter jets rumbled through the sky, prompting 3,572 fans to crane their necks in an effort to catch the machines, and maybe capture a photo, before they disappeared.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Charitee Swift-Day performed the national anthem. The night’s second musical act came from a solo trumpeter playing a traditional Navy tune at halftime.

Before a bright orange ball was tossed into the air by a game official, the one hanging high above San Diego descended below the scoreboard to create a majestic sunset.

Gonzaga didn’t take any part of the experience for granted and earned a result that made it even sweeter.

“To come here and to see the service people and what they do day in and day out, incredible sacrifice, toughness and teamness they have,” GU coach Few said. “It’s something that’s going to make a huge, huge impression on all of us for the rest of our lives.

“To tie it all in, I thought the game was fitting in that matter. It wasn’t pretty, but it was two teams that battled their tails off, they competed like crazy.”

Considering how spectacular every other aspect of Friday’s event was, the basketball could afford to be less than breathtaking. Chilly weather, especially in the second half, and sporadic wind gusts made things challenging on the offensive end, but second-ranked Gonzaga came up with the adjustments necessary to secure a 64-63 win over Michigan State.

We take a deeper look at the impact of game MVP Timme and how the conditions knocked Gonzaga’s 3-point shooters out of rhythm on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Trouble with Timme

Call it a hot take or informed guess, but ESPN’s Seth Greenberg gave his production on how things would play out between the Bulldogs and Spartans during a phone call on Thursday morning. One significant aspect, at least.

“My gut feeling is (Drew Timme) fouls out Mady Sissoko,” Greenberg told The Spokesman-Review.

Timme baited Michigan State’s big forward into his fourth foul on a layup and three-point play with 7 minutes left in the second half and finished the job 5 minutes later. Sissoko hooked his arm around Timme in the post, drawing a quick whistle that forced MSU’s top scorer to leave for the final time with 1:51 remaining.

The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward still set a career high against Gonzaga, scoring 15 points to go with nine rebounds, but Sissoko fouled out at a critical point. Without a scoring threat in the post, MSU settled for three straight jumpers in the game’s final 2 minutes and missed each, allowing the Zags to hold on.

“(Timme) got a couple offensive rebounds, I think I should’ve kept him off the glass,” Sissoko said. “But I was a little bit scared for the fouls. … The calls … could go either way, but I think I should’ve done a better job on him, especially in the second half.”

Timme’s stats were better than anyone on the floor. The senior forward finished with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field, 13 rebounds, four rebounds and four blocks, but he was effective in other ways that changed the landscape.

Sissoko’s final three fouls came while trying to guard Timme. Michigan State teammate Joey Hauser picked up his fourth and fifth fouls within 30 seconds of each other – both of those coming on defensive possessions against the Gonzaga All-American. Hauser was disqualified with 4:46 remaining and another frontcourt starter, Malik Hall, dealt with foul trouble in the second half.

Sissoko, Hauser and Hall combined to play just 37 minutes in the second half, often leaving the Spartans without a starting-caliber player to cover Timme, who didn’t leave the floor after halftime and scored 14 of GU’s 33 points in the second half.

“He gets his free way in there as far as what he can do, but I give him a lot of credit because when it was winning time – he’s not a great rebounder, I don’t think, and he went up and got some real rebounds,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “Then put shots back, three-point plays, posted as hard as he could post. I love Drew, I really do. I think he is a very good player and a good kid. Mark’s done a really good job with him, so I’m a fan. He gets my vote.”

‘Big shot Ra’

Rasir Bolton was Gonzaga’s most accurate 3-point shooter last year and didn’t lose his touch in the offseason, making 3 of 4 from behind the arc in the season opener against North Florida.

Teammates have bestowed the nickname “Big shot Ra” on the former Iowa State player because of his knack for knocking down clutch 3s in key moments.

Bolton and just about everyone on the Bulldogs’ bench must have been surprised to see the guard’s first 3-point attempt on Friday miss the iron by a handful of inches, thud off the backboard and fall into the hands of a Michigan State rebounder.

Bolton certainly wasn’t alone . The Bulldogs and Spartans combined to shoot 7 of 34 (20%) from the 3-point line, missing long, short, left and right. One Michigan State attempt missed the rim and backboard completely.

It’s a stretch to say the game was played in a windstorm, but even the slightest breeze can impact a shot’s trajectory. Players who seldom practice long-range shooting outside of enclosed gyms struggled to adjust.

Michigan State’s Tyson Walker went 1 for 2 from the 3-point line, but nobody else in the game who attempted a 3 finished better than 33%.

“You know the wind is going when you catch it so you try to just focus on the shot,” Bolton said. “But at the end of the day you put it in the air, you see it fly to the left and it’s just kind of how it goes. We all had shots like that, but the message to everybody was just keep going, get a stop on defense and come back, try again. That’s all you can do.”

The Zags adjusted their offensive strategy in the second half, attempting just six 3-pointers after taking 12 in the first half. Bolton tried his second from the top of the arc with 11:20 remaining, missing wide of the rim again, but the fifth-year guard found his mark when it mattered.

With 3:59 remaining and Gonzaga trailing by three points, Timme threw to Bolton out of a double team, and the guard caught the ball before uncorking a 3 from the elbow to tie things up. It was the last Michigan State saw of the lead and Gonzaga went up by two points on Malachi Smith’s layup on the next possession.

“It was big,” Bolton said of the shot. “I just had to trust myself to shoot it and it was definitely tough conditions with wind and playing outside and things like that. So I just had to trust my work and put it up there and it went in.”

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