Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Gonzaga dodges upset, fires up Mark Few but not the Christmas-break Kennel

Posted By on Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 10:49 AM

click to enlarge Mark Few sent a message to starters Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, benching them after a near-loss to North Dakota. - LIBBY KAMROWSKI
  • Libby Kamrowski
  • Mark Few sent a message to starters Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, benching them after a near-loss to North Dakota.

Turns out college basketball just isn’t the same when school’s not in session.

It’s Christmas break at Gonzaga and the students have gone home for the holidays. Normally, roughly 1,250 of the 6,000 seats in the McCarthey Athletic Center are reserved for the Kennel Club, Gonzaga’s raucous student section. But with an empty campus, those seats are made available to the general public. Apparently, full-time Spokanites aren’t nearly as into screaming, stomping and holding signs as the students who they replaced.

The North Dakota Fighting Hawks and IUPUI Jaguars had certainly heard tales of the intimidating environment inside the McCarthey Athletic Center. What they experienced, though, was completely different.

The Kennel, without its Club, is about as loud as a library. A pretty good place to get some work done, if you’re an upset-minded team like North Dakota.

Perhaps, then, coach Mark Few decided to punish the fans for just sitting idly by as his team stumbled around on the court. In Monday’s game against IUPUI, regular starters Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie were held out of the starting lineup.

If all you’re going to do is sit there, what makes you think you deserve to see top shelf Gonzaga basketball? Okay, that’s probably not the case. The decision to take Tillie and Williams from the starting five was probably a bit more motivational than anything else. Though the coach refused to show his cards regarding the decision.

“It’s my prerogative,” Few said. “It’s what I get to do.”

Whatever the reason, the result was a good one Monday night. Tillie went for a career high 27 points, and Williams was second on the team with 17 points, along with 14 rebounds, in the 101-71 win.

“They’re fun to watch,” Few said of Tillie and Williams.

“When they don’t bring energy, when they don’t bring physicality, when they don’t bring any toughness… then we’re not as good and they’re not as fun to watch.”

The “when” that Few kept referencing came just two nights prior against North Dakota.

Gonzaga was a 30.5-point favorite in Saturday’s game against the Fighting Hawks. It wasn’t supposed to be competitive; a chance for Gonzaga to simply put on a show. But at times it felt like Gonzaga was going to lose, and arena staff had to use the giant new scoreboards to help rally the crowd.

Bright, pulsating demands for the spectators to “get loud” shown down from the video screens hanging from the rafters.

That tactic is rarely employed and almost never needed at the Kennel. There’s usually so much energy in the building. Not just from the students, but from the product on the court as well. But on Saturday, the basketball on display in the 89-83 overtime win was far from inspirational.

Gonzaga turned the ball over 17 times. Only Texas and Villanova, two elite defensive teams, have forced Gonzaga into more turnovers this season. Combine the lack of ball-control with the second-worst shooting performance of the year for the Zags, hitting only 44.4% of their shots from the field, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

They won, in the end, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of performance that makes you want to jump up and cheer.

Let’s hope that the Zags haven’t forgotten how to play in front of a spirited crowd, because that’s what they’ll likely encounter on Thursday when they visit the San Diego State Aztecs.
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