LAS VEGAS – Upon evaluating his first stint off the bench Saturday against USC, Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg came to the brutally harsh, and possibly even unfair, conclusion that “I came out in the first half and didn’t do anything.”
“I think I hurt the team more than I helped it,” Gregg added.
The verdict may still be out on that. Gregg made one of the two shots he took while leading the Zags in first-half rebounding and delivering one assist.
But there was no disputing what Gregg did in the second half of Gonzaga’s 89-76 win over the Trojans on a neutral court at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The reserve forward scored 12 of his 14 points after the break and added four more rebounds to finish with eight, leading the Zags through a second-half stretch where starting forward Graham Ike spent a large chunk of time on the bench due to foul trouble.
“It was awesome. It’s a great feeling to get in that spot mentally,” Gregg said. “… I knew at halftime I had to flip a switch and just go out there and just try and make winning plays. Just the rebounding and all that stuff and then the scoring just came with it, which was great.
“It’s a lot of fun to be in that zone.”
Gregg re-entered the game approximately six minutes into the second half and over a 5-minute, 15-second stretch, the junior scored 12 points – including a pair of 3-pointers – while also hauling down three rebounds.
Gregg mixed in a few signature effort plays, at one point flying in for an offensive board and converting a putback on Ike’s missed layup to extend the lead out to 72-57 with less than seven minutes remaining.
With Ike and fellow starter Anton Watson in foul trouble, the Zags hardly missed a beat when Gregg and redshirt freshman forward Braden Huff were manning Gonzaga’s frontcourt.
“I bet it’s probably hard for teams to see our starting bigs go out and me and Braden go in, because we kind of do different things than the starters do,” Gregg said. “Just kind of brings a different aspect on the court. We can step out and shoot 3’s and stuff. But we’re very deep and our guards are playing a lot of minutes and they’re doing a great job fighting through it, playing hard every minute.
“But I think it’s going to be hard for teams to guard us.”
Aside from a brief cameo from Jun Seok Yeo late in the first half, Gregg and Huff were the only reserves to get on the court Saturday. Those two helped the Zags outscore the Trojans, who used five players off the bench, by a 26-17 margin.
Though Watson and Ike have proven they have the ability to knock down 3-pointers, Gregg and Huff give Gonzaga’s offense another dimension with their perimeter-shooting accuracy.
Those two combined to make four of GU’s 12 3-pointers on a night when USC made just six as a team.
“I thought that was the key to the game, because they were 10 of 16 between the two of them and 4 for 6 from the 3-point line,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We had wide-open 3s, we were 6 for 22. Boogie (Ellis) had four of them. Our better shooters were missing shots and their two big guys came off the bench, weren’t missing.
“They had 26 points between the two of them. Gonzaga’s a very tough team to play, but when you have production, 26 points from two big guys off the bench, that makes it a long night for us and anyone that’s guarding them.”