Dec. 7—Gonzaga wasn't going to beat Kent State without Drew Timme's 29 points, 17 rebounds and four assists. The Zags also weren't going to win without the stalwart defense of Hunter Sallis.
There were other timely contributions as the Zags finished strong for a hard-fought 73-66 win, but, as Timme and Sallis demonstrated, it required players at opposite ends of the scoring column to outlast the Mid-American Conference favorites.
"They're really, really good," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of the Golden Flashes. "I knew that. I've been on my scheduling guy about this game. They were every bit as good as advertised."
Our latest Gonzaga rewind covers the game-changing impact of Sallis, Few and Timme moving up in the record books and the benefits of GU's daunting non-conference schedule.
Hunter makes points on defensive end
Sallis had three points, matching Malachi Smith for the fewest among the seven Zags that scored, but the points prevented by his adhesive defense on Kent State's talented guards influenced the outcome.
Sallis flew around the court to stymie four different players on one possession before drawing a charge on Jalen Sullinger with 58.2 seconds remaining and GU leading 71-66.
Sallis first thwarted a potential transition opportunity on the wing before racing laterally across the court to deny dribble penetration by Malique Jacobs. GU's Julian Strawther bit on a pump fake by Miryne Thomas, who was stopped by Sallis after two dribbles just inside the free-throw line. The pass went to Sullinger, who drove to the basket only to run over Sallis at the edge of the lane.
Nolan Hickman offered a fist pump and helped Sallis to his feet.
Sallis put the clamps on reigning MAC player of the year Sincere Carry in the second half. Rasir Bolton kept Carry in check for most of the opening half. Carry, who averages 18.5 points, finished with 10 on 4-of-15 shooting.
Sallis also drew charging fouls on Carry with 4:55 remaining and on Jacobs near the end of the first half.
"He (Carry) was the engine that made them go," Strawther said. "Hunter just put his head down and made huge plays. Taking charges, those are winning plays and that's exactly what we need from Hunter, and that's what we expect from him.
"He's an amazing defender. Just to see it in big moments, it's huge for us."
Few made it a point to mention that Sallis "gave us great minutes. I thought Nolan was solid against those kinds of guards, I think he's really learning the intensity and toughness it takes to be successful at this level. I think all those young guys are. It's been kind of a hard learning curve for them."
Few, Timme records watch
Monday's win was No. 664 of Few's career, moving him into a tie for No. 32 on the all-time list with John Wooden.
"Well, I had no idea," said Few, who is 664-132 in his 24th season. "That's probably the one guy of all that I've looked up to the most. I've read every book on him, just the way he lived his life, ran his program and just the type of man he was, it's just very, very inspiring and been a huge part of my life.
"But he's got a lot more natties than I've got."
That last line, referencing Wooden's 10 national titles, drew chuckles from the media and Few himself.
Mark and wife Marcy received the Nell and John Wooden Lifetime Coaching Achievement Award in 2008 in Boise as part of the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Timme's big night moved him past Matt Bouldin into No. 8 on GU's career scoring list. Timme has 1,699 points. Ronny Turiaf is seventh at 1,723.
Timme's career-high 17 rebounds vaulted him into 10th with 691, just in front of Robert Sacre (679) and just behind No. 9 Domantas Sabonis (694). Timme's 11 field goals hiked his career total to 670 and into third in front of Adam Morrison (669) and Elias Harris (666). Jim McPhee is second at 774.
Timme has been patient against a variety of defensive tactics, including Baylor's swarming approach and Kent State sending guards to double.
"Honestly, the Baylor game they were coming so hard, the play was to facilitate through me so that's what we did," he said. "They (Golden Flashes) didn't come as hard so I was able to split it easier. I just played to the system and that's all it is.
"This guy (Strawther) knows. Some days he goes off, some days I go off, some days we both go off, some days neither of us go off. We play within the system and that's beauty of this offense. Anybody can step up on any given night."
The Zags are becoming more battle-tested with every game. They've been in three straight decided in the final minute. Baylor and Xavier came down to the closing seconds.
Gonzaga's schedule has included four Quad 1 games so far, matching Duke, Baylor, North Carolina and Xavier for the most among teams in the NET top 45. GU is 1-3 in Quad 1 games, 3-0 in Quad 2.
Gonzaga has experienced dozens of high-pressure possessions that are nearly impossible to simulate in practice.
"At this point of the season, more than years' previous, we've been in these late-game situations so often already, I feel like our composure was super high," Strawther said. "We just knew we had to trust each other. We know what we're all capable of and we know what we have to do to grit these games out. There were no special words being said, let's just make it happen."