DENVER (AP) — Slow-starting Gonzaga finally shook off the first-round jitters, then wore out Grand Canyon 82-70 behind 28 points and 10 rebounds from Julian Strawther in the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
Zags senior Drew Timme brought his sweatband and handlebar moustache back to March Madness and finished with 21 points, six rebounds and three blocks for the third-seeded Bulldogs (29-5), who haven’t lost a first-round game in the tournament since 2008.
Next up for Gonzaga is a game Sunday against the winner of a later West Region contest between TCU and Arizona State.
Like almost every Zag outside of Strawther, Timme was bottled up and frustrated in the first half, then came out of halftime and looked like a different player. After trailing by as many as seven, Timme’s three-point play gave Gonzaga a 48-40 lead early in the second half.
“As I walked into the locker room, Drew was talking to guys about ‘Hey, now the jitters are out of the way and now we’ve got to play,’” coach Mark Few said about halftime. “I thought we came out, certainly for that first 15 minutes in the second half, and we got back to the plan.”
Grand Canyon’s Ray Harrison answered Timme’s three-point play with a driving layup. After that, Gonzaga went on a 16-0 run during which the 14th-seeded Lopes (24-12), champions of the Western Athletic Conference, missed 11 straight shots and fell behind by 22.
With the game a laugher, the rowdy “Havocs,” as the Grand Canyon fans are known, turned their attention to the end of No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson’s shocker over No. 1 Purdue playing on the big screen above the court.
But there was no upset in Denver.
“I told our guys ‘Eyes on the court. We don’t need another circus show going on, we’ve got one going on here right now,’” Timme said.
Harrison led Grand Canyon with 20 points and Chance McMillian had 16. Noah Baumann (eight points) made a pair of 3s during a 12-4 stretch that helped the Lopes to their seven-point lead in the first half.
Strawther, who decided to come back to Gonzaga for his junior season instead of heading to the pros, kept Gonzaga in it early. He scored 16 of his 28 in the first half.
The second half was more of a team effort for Gonzaga, which also got 14 points, 11 rebounds and a rugged defensive effort from Anton Watson that included two steals.
In the end, the game was a lot like Gonzaga’s season — slow start, better as things kept going and a chance to do more. The Bulldogs had their 75-game home winning streak snapped in January and this marked the first time since 2018 they came into the tournament as anything other than a No. 1 seed.
“I thought we were in a good place going into halftime,” Lopes coach Bryce Drew said. “But Gonzaga’s one of the best programs in the nation for a reason.”
Harrison led Grand Canyon, a fifth seed in the WAC tournament, to four straight wins and the March Madness bid by becoming the first Division I player to collect 80 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists in a conference tournament since Kemba Walker (Big East) in 2011. On Friday, though, Harrison was bottled up. He needed 19 shots to get his 20 points, and finished with two rebounds and three assists.
NOT AGAIN, PART II
This marks the 25th anniversary of Drew’s memorable game-winner, when he was a guard for Valparaiso and shot the Crusaders to a 13-over-4 upset over Ole Miss. Nobody had a chance to replicate that for the Lopes, though. Still, this was Grand Canyon’s second trip to the tournament since its move to Division I in 2017.
“I wish we could skip a lot of steps and upset a team like Gonzaga and make the Sweet 16,” Drew said, “but in a normal situation, you have to go step by step.”
With his dad, LaPhonso Ellis, sitting in the stands, Walter Ellis had nine points before fouling out for Grand Canyon. LaPhonso Ellis, the former Notre Dame star, played in Denver for the Nuggets from 1992-98.