For the better part of 40 minutes, the Gonzaga Bulldogs appeared to be playing the sport of basketball. They weren’t doing it well at all, and because of that, a hard-nosed Tarleton State squad with an upset on the brain gave the Zags a much closer game than anyone expected, ultimately falling short as Gonzaga won 64-55.
One would be hard-pressed to find a worse 20 minute stretch than what the Zags produced in the first half. Gonzaga shot just 8-of-23 from the floor, including 1-of-9 from three-point, and 9-of-16 from the free-throw line. Tartleton State forced 10 Zag turnovers. Despite garnering six offensive rebounds in the first half, the Zags couldn’t convert any second-chance points.
The Texans consistently sprinted down the court. Their defense was completely set up and ready to hassle and frustrate the Gonzaga offense before the Zags even took stock of the situation. Tarleton State visibly came to play, and for the better part of the game, they bodied the Zags around as if they belonged in the arena.
Credit to the Texans, they showed up to win the game. Gonzaga looked like they showed up solely because they had to. At one point, the Zags went without a field goal for over seven minutes, stretching from 8:16 to 42 seconds left in the first half.
The futility continued into the second half. Tarleton State kept the floor completely spread, draining 30 seconds off the shot clock, and making some quality shots. As uninspired as the Gonzaga offense looked, the defense was just as bad. Take away Chet Holmgren’s lanky arms blocking a couple of jump shots and it could’ve been worse.
The Texans got a great outburst of energy from guard Tahj Small, who led all scorers with 25 points. With Tartleton’s defense forcing Gonzaga’s offense completely off the rails, that was enough to keep the Texans within four points for a majority of the game. Eventually, with just a few minutes remaining in the game, Holmgren and Rasir Bolton took over to give the Zags a “comfortable” lead.
This was about as bad of a game as we have seen from the Zags since a Geno Crandall-led North Dakota took the Zags to overtime in the 2017-18 season. The only difference this time around was that everyone knew that Tarleton State came into the game with an aggressive defense that forced a lot of turnovers. From the very beginning, the Zags looked absolutely lost and completely flustered by the Texans’ pressure defense.
Considering how many issues the Zags had against Duke’s pressure defense on Friday, it will be something for the coaching staff to look at. The Gonzaga guards did not handle the Tarleton defense well for a majority of the game. Gonzaga had two assists on eight made field goals in the first half and finally finished nine on 22 made field goals.
Ultimately, it was a gritty win from the Zags over a team that is probably better than its record suggests. However, the game was much closer than it ever needed to be, and the upcoming film room session is not going to be very fun.