The Quinnipiac Bobcats, a team predicted to finish second to last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, gave Gonzaga all it could handle for the first 15 minutes of Thursday’s game in Orlando. A close game turned into an easy 82-62 win for the Bulldogs once they settled in.
The first 20 minutes of the game were rough to watch for both teams because it consisted of sloppy play and poor shot selection. At the half, the two teams combined for 22 turnovers.
Head coach Mark Few knew the offense just needed consistency. Without the ability to play turnover-free basketball, no offense can function.
“If we take care of the ball, we can be a very efficient offense,” Few said.
It took some time, but the Zags were able to beat the 1-3-1 zone from the Bobcats and make plays.
“We had some really good sets coming into the game for the 1-3-1 and I thought we did a good job of executing it,” Nigel Williams-Goss said.
A Killian Tillie steal and dunk with 4:17 left in the first half helped the Zags effectively pull away. Another 3 from Perkins put the Zags up by five and they never looked back. The closest the Bobcats came to catching the Bulldogs was an opening 3 in the second half by Peter Kiss, which pulled them within five.
Coach Few was asked if Tillie’s play was a spark for the rest of the team, but he said he saw a few players step up and guide the team through the tumultuous first half.
“I thought there were a couple guys that rose us up,” he said. “Nigel poked some things loose, Perk (Perkins) was poking some loose in the first half and it allowed us to play better offense because in the half court we weren’t very good.”
He went on to give Tillie credit for a great all-around play.
“Killian did a nice job of making a play and getting out on that break and getting us going a little bit,” Few said.
To start the second half, the Zags sent out four of five starters sans Mathews. Melson was the replacement, and he responded with a quick 3 for the second basket of the half.
The Bulldogs continued to roll by opening the second half with a 13-4 run punctuated by a dunk from Melson and a 3 from Perkins.
The opening-minute nerves settled once the half wore on and GU continued to add to its lead.
“We just stuck to the game plan that we came into the game with and we executed much better in the second half,” freshman Zach Collins said.
Even though the Bulldogs won by twenty points, their play didn’t feel smooth at all. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win, and it moves the Zags into the semi-finals.
The high level of play from the Bobcats is also worth noting. Their previous two games were losses to Vermont and Colombia by a combined 32 points.
“Quinnipiac played really, really hard,” Mark Few said. “They are very opportunistic and I think they shot the ball better than they had on the two tapes prior.”
One area the Zags did dominate the opposition was in rebounding. Quinnipiac was the best rebounding team in the country between 2010 and 2015, and seventh last season. They showed prowess from years past, but the Zags outrebounded the Bobcats 48-31.
“We knew they were going to come in and try to get after us on the glass and I thought we did a really nice job there,” Few said.
If the Zags hope to win the tournament, they will have to play better basketball to start the game. It is also clear the team full of new faces has some room to gel — they are still working on cohesion.
“We fought, stayed together and didn’t let us get us down and we kept rolling,” Collins said.
This game specifically was an important step for a team wthat was rolling the first three weeks of the young season.
“[The game] does nothing but draw us even closer and we have been working on that all year,” Few said.
The first three games of the season for the Zags have been routs and it seemed as if they were expecting more of the same.
“Like I told the guys, we aren’t going to be up by 30 every game at half,” Few said. “It is division I basketball, so you have to scratch and claw your way through it.”