SALT LAKE CITY — The Gonzaga basketball team has been all about blowouts in a season when it outscored its opponents by an average of 24 points, including wins by 30 and 34 points over BYU, by 48 over Saint Mary’s and by 59 over Santa Clara.
So even if it was an NCAA Tournament game Thursday at Vivint Arena, it was no surprise that the Bulldogs blew out another opponent as this time they won by 38 points.
The Bulldogs improved to 31-3 with an 87-49 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson, the biggest blowout on the first day of the NCAA Tournament and the largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game by Gonzaga, which has now won 32 NCAA games.
Gonzaga had lost nine days earlier to Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference championship, casting some doubt on the Bulldogs' worthiness as a No. 1 tournament seed. But any uncertainty that they would have any sort of hangover from last week’s upset loss or be rusty after the long layoff was quickly dispelled in the opening five minutes as the Zags quickly took a double-digit lead, which expanded to 36 by halftime.
“I loved our intensity from the jump,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “We also had a great attention to detail. We've been pretty good with that all year, of finding the scouting report, understanding it and then taking it out on the floor. And I thought the combination of both those, great intensity and the physicality around the rim.”
A day earlier FDU coach Greg Herenda had talked about how both teams were fast, adding that Gonzaga was “big and fast.”
That showed all game long as Gonzagza’s three bigs — 6-8 Rui Hachimura, 6-8 Brandon Clarke and 6-10 Killian Tillie combined for 50 points, more than the entire FDU team, on 20-of-31 shooting. Hachimura, a first-team all-American, led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Tillie scored 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting off the bench and Clarke added 12 points and eight rebounds.
“We knew their size was really going to hurt,” said Herenda. “The key to the game, believe it or not, was us not scoring. If we score, we can maybe get back and protect our goal line. It felt like a football game. Because when we didn't score, they were out and it didn't matter if we went back zone or man, they just come at you and they're bigger and stronger.”
The Bulldogs were sharp from the start in racing to a 19-point lead halfway through the first half as they totally outclassed a Knights team that had beaten Prairie View A&M two nights earlier to get the opportunity of meeting the West Region’s No. 1 seed.
Herenda kept saying it wasn’t an excuse, just a “fact” that his team had arrived in Salt Lake in the early morning hours after playing Tuesday night and was playing a game that started in late afternoon a day later.
“I’m not complaining about it, just giving you the facts that it was a tough turnaround,” he said. “But that’s the deal.”
The Knights came into the game as the fifth best 3-point shooting team in the nation at 40.3 percent, but missed their first six before finally connecting. By that point it was 26-11 and when the Zags went on a 19-0 run to end the half, the margin stretched to 53-17.Comment on this story
Knowing his team had no chance to win, Herenda gave his team a goal to win the second half and get to 50 points. The Knights came up just short, losing the second half by two and falling one point short of 50.
While it was the biggest margin of victory on the first day of the NCAA, it didn’t come close to the largest NCAA blowout of 64 points back in 1963 when eventual champion Loyola of Chicago beat Tennessee Tech by 64 points, 111-47.
Now the Bulldogs will get ready for a more competitive game Saturday against Baylor, which knocked off No. 8 seed Syracuse 78-69 in Thursday’s late game.