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Gonzaga Basketball

TV take: ESPN’s Sean Farnham reacts to Gonzaga students throwing debris on the court – ‘I’ve never seen that here’

By Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

A rivalry game. A sold-out McCarthey Athletic Center. A Saturday night in early February. It’s college hoops. It’s Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. And it’s on ESPN. With Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham on the call.

It just seemed right. Well, everything but the final score, if you have Gonzaga ties. The Gaels used a run late in the game to earn a 64-62 win marred by late-game outbursts by the student section.

What they saw …• “This has been a one-possession contest the entire second half,” Farnham pointed out with about 6 minutes left.

At that point, Gonzaga’s five starters had played every minute since halftime. The Zags led 55-52. But Graham Ike, who had 12 points and rebounds, had to sit after picking up his fourth foul with 5:17 left – his third was one of the few touch ones called in a physical game by the crew of Randy McCall, Nate Harris and Mike Littlewood – and Saint Mary’s went on an 8-0 spurt. That gave it a five-point lead with a little more than 2 minutes left.

Another touch foul was called on Ben Gregg’s ensuing follow – a phantom call was assessed after a goaltend review – but he missed the free throw that could have brought GU within two. Each team had empty possessions before Augustas Marciulionis hit a shot-clock beating 3-pointer with 48.5 second left that iced the game. It led to a delay as the Kennel Club showered the court with debris after it looked as if Aiden Mahaney had kicked the ball and then stepped out of bounds before the shot.

Farnham and Flemming – and Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett – were shocked a technical foul wasn’t assessed for the fans’ reaction. There wasn’t one and GU had life.

Anton Watson hit a 3-pointer. Gonzaga, out of timeouts, allowed the Gaels to milk the clock. A wild shot was taken. The shot clock expired. But Harris had called a foul on Watson. The whistle caused another explosion with 5 seconds left.

“This has been chaos here,” Farnham said as the officials checked the monitor to see if the foul had occurred before the shot clock hit zero. It had.

“Frankly, these officials have lost control of this game. It’s almost as if they are making it up on the fly,” Flemming said.

“I’ve never seen that here,” Farnham said of the debris tossing that happened twice during the game and once after.

Mitchell Saxen’s free throw ensured Gonzaga would drop two games behind the Gaels in the WCC standings.

• The wild ending didn’t seem in the cards early on. Gonzaga rolled to a quick start. But, as could be expected in a game between two teams that have played 40 times since 2010 (as ESPN showed more than once), it didn’t last.

But it was fun for the home crowd while it lasted, and maybe even for Farnham and Flemming, who have been in McCarthey often enough lately that they might want to invest in a Logan neighborhood house.

After spending Tuesday in town covering the Zags’ win over Loyola Marymount, the duo returned for the rivalry game. Though Farnham came in a bit early to hold a Coaches vs. Cancer fundraiser Friday night at the Davenport hotel.

On Saturday, he was using his local knowledge to describe the Bulldogs’ 11-2 start with a Bill Walton-like flair, focusing on the Loyola win.

“That was the first time you and I really saw them play (this season) with joy and freedom,” he told Flemming. “They have been able to carry that over, a least early this evening.”

Saint Mary’s didn’t score from the field until 6 minutes in, but by halftime the game had become a back-and-forth affair, with the Gaels (18-6, 9-0 in WCC play) leading at times, including, as Flemming said with a minute left before halftime, “Somehow, someway, they have the ball with a one-point lead.” Nolan Hickman scored, though, and the Bulldogs took a 33-32 lead into the locker room.

“What a half in Spokane,” Flemming said. “What did you expect?” Farnham replied.

• In what was an abbreviated pregame show, Farnham and Flemming highlighted Hickman and Marciulionis as the key players for each team. If they knew, then both coaching staffs certainly did. And they did everything they could to limit their offensive chances.

Hickman had just four shots in the first half, though he had the Zags’ final points – and the first bucket to start the second. He finished 3 of 12 from the floor.

Joshua Jefferson, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, was the surprise for the Gaels, though Farnham touted his recent play often, including early in the second half when he scored the Gaels’ first six points. He finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.

For the Bulldogs (16-6, 7-2), the offensive spark was point guard Ryan Nembhard, playing Saint Mary’s for the first time. He was aggressive early, in the middle and late, scoring 18 points but only tallied one assist.

What we saw …

• There is more good than bad about living on the West Coast when it comes to watching sports on TV. Mainly, it is all about start – and end – times. A 7:30 p.m. game, as Saturday night’s was scheduled to be, is so much better than a 10:30 start – as it is on the Interstate 95 corridor.

But it also has its drawbacks. Mainly, the inability of ESPN to stay within its two-hour college basketball windows. Which means, as a full Saturday wears on, there is little chance the night’s final games will start on time.

There may be something comforting about tradition, but when it’s a Gonzaga game having to start on ESPN News instead of the scheduled flagship or the Deuce, as is the case way too often, then it’s not a comfort, it’s a curse.

Especially if your watch time of choice may not be the same as the schedule’s. Trying to record a GU game can be a failed endeavor. Frustrating, too.

It happened again in this one, with fifth-ranked Tennessee’s win over No. 10 Kentucky, the Zags’ opponent Saturday, going well past GU’s tip time, we faced that possibility again. Problem was, UCLA was hosting Oregon on ESPN2 in a game that was supposed to start at 7. Instead, because Baylor’s win over Iowa State, a game that had more officials’ reviews than a Pac-12 football game, went more than a half-hour late, News was already in use.

That game finished, however, allowing the WCC showdown to begin at 7:40. On ESPNU. About 10 minutes later, it moved to the main channel.