It won’t show up in the final score, but No. 2 Gonzaga got a spirited challenge from No. 15 North Dakota State on Friday. Trailing 43-30 at halftime, North Dakota State erupted for 46 points in the second half. But in the end, Gonzaga had too many weapons – and won, 86-76.
“They gave us their best shot late in the game,” Gonzaga guard Gary Bell Jr. said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “No. 40 (Dexter Werner) hit some key buckets for them and then also (Lawrence) Alexander hit some shots. But I thought we handled them well and we got the win. That’s all that matters.”
Werner scored a team-high 22 points off the bench, while Alexander had 19 points – 12 of them coming on three-pointers. In fact, the Bison shot 10-of-21 (46.7 percent) from three-point range and 53.7 percent from the field.
But they also had just five assists on 29 field goals. Gonzaga, meanwhile, had 16 assists on 30 field goals.
“That’s the key for our offense – to get everybody involved, for everybody to touch it,” Bell said. “When our bigs are playing well with (Kyle) Wiltjer and Przemek (Karnowski), it’s kind of stupid not go give them the ball. They played really good today and made some key baskets for us when we needed it.”
That duo combined for 34 points and 14 rebounds, with Wiltjer scoring a team-high 23. Bell had 13, while Kevin Pangos added 18.
“When we’re hitting shots like that and we’re moving the ball, we’re tough to beat,” Bell said. “Hopefully we can keep playing like this.”
Gonzaga (33-2, 17-1) advances to the Round of 32 to face No. 7 Iowa (22-11, 12-6), which destroyed No. 10 Davidson, 83-53, on Friday. Aaron White, Peter Jok and Mike Gesell combined for 53 points on 22-of-37 shooting (59.5 percent). The Hawkeyes also won the rebounding battle 46-30 and swatted five shots.
“I actually didn’t watch the game. We were kind of warming up and stuff, but I definitely know they play well,” Bell said. “They have some bigs, but hopefully we can play better on Sunday and get the W for the Sweet 16.”
Gonzaga hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2009 but is hoping to overcome its Round-of-32 bugaboo on Sunday.
“I think we can,” Bell said. “We got to take it day by day and game by game and got to keep winning to go far. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Bell said that it’s definitely nice playing in Seattle, which is only a couple of hours from Gonzaga’s campus in Spokane.
“It’s fortunate for us to pretty much have a home game and have a nice crowd rooting for us,” Bell said. “We’re going to go out there (and) give it our all. It really doesn’t matter where we play. But it’s definitely nice that we’re closer to home.”
If results go according to seeding, Gonzaga would face No. 1 Duke in the Elite Eight.
“That’d be nice playing a historical team like that,” Bell said. “Hopefully we do make it that far and hopefully they make it so we can have a great matchup.”