SALT LAKE CITY — The Gonzaga men’s basketball team has gotten used to having its way on the court. The Zags beat conference opponents by 27 points, have a near perfect record and are one of the favorites to win the national title.
Opening up NCAA Tournament play, the Zags continued to have their way, beating No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 87-49 on Thursday in the Round of 64 — GU’s largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game.
There was chatter of whether the Knights could do what UMBC did last season and beat a one-seed. But that talk was quickly hushed, as GU got a 14-point lead five minutes into the game. By the halfway mark of the first period, the Zags’ had increased their lead to 19.
At the half, it had ballooned to 36, much in thanks to a 19-0 run.
“I was on the bench watching. I told the guys when we came in here that it was really fun to watch, like, I had my popcorn everything,” Josh Perkins said. “It was big time. When we play like that, we’re tough to beat. So we just have to carry this confidence and carry this momentum into the next one.”
The thought on some people’s minds was that Gonzaga was trying to avenge its loss in the West Coast Conference tournament. Perhaps there as some anger in there that was fueling the Zags in this performance. Perkins quickly shut that notion down.
“As soon as that game was over we put it behind us,” he said. “Unfortunately, we got asked about it more than we wanted to, but as soon as that game was over we just tried to put it behind us and learn from it. It showed today".
A big reason for the Bulldogs’ blowout win was because they were able to keep FDU, a 40.4 percent shooting team from deep, to just 28.6 percent on 3s on 6 of 21 shooting. And when the Knights did hit a 3, the Zags answered with one of their own, seeming to beat FDU at its own game.
The Zags shot 42.9 from 3 — spearheaded by Zach Norvell Jr., who knocked down three from beyond the arc.
The Zags defense wasn’t limited to defending the perimeter, tallying eight blocks and three steals and limited FDU to 30 percent shooting from the field.
“We were trying to not gap off [Edge], and also Jenkins and also their four man,” Brandon Clarke said. “I feel we did a really, really good job of doing two things at once, so being in the gap and then getting out on the shooter still. I feel like we had a really, really good focus on the defensive end tonight doing that, so that made it harder for them to hit threes.”
“We knew their size was really going to hurt,” FDU head coach Greg Herenda said. “… They just come at you and come at you and they’re bigger and stronger. I don’t know if they’re faster. We went to the foul line more than Gonzaga. We drove by Gonzaga. But when we drove by, we found two more Gonzaga players.”
GU’s size advantage wasn’t just apparent on the defensive end, but on the offensive end as well. All night, it seemed like GU had its way in the paint, particularly players Rui Hachimura and Clarke.
Hachimura lead all scorers with 21 points, while also chipping in eight rebounds. Clarke scored 12 points to go along with eight rebounds, three blocks and one steal.
Gonzaga was dubbed with extra size since the return of Killian Tillie. Tillie got in the action too, soaring in over two FDU defenders from just outside the restricted area, bringing the bench to its feet, and players’ hands to their heads.
It wasn’t just Gonzaga’s big men to make an impact. The Zags’ stat sheet was filled with even-keeled scoring, with four players finishing in double digits. Along with Hachimura and Clarke, Tillie finished with 17 points and Norvell scored 13. GU also beat out the the Knights in every category — points in the paint (48-16), points off turnovers (24-14), second-chance points (22-6), and fast-break points (22-6).
“I though they did an excellent job in all facets of the game,” Few said. “Obviously, it started on the defensive end in the first half … by and large, our intensity was good. Our attention to detail was excellent, like it’s been all year. And then we get out and run like that and share the ball … that is a really, really good thing.”
Gonzaga will face No. 9 Baylor in the Round of 32 on Saturday.
Kendra Andrews is the Editor-in-Chief. Follow her on Twitter: @kendra__andrews.