GONZAGA

Hot-shooting Zags roll to easy 86-65 tourney win over McNeese

Mar 21, 2024, 7:17 PM

Gonzaga Nolan Hickman McNeese NCAA Tournament Zags...

Nolan Hickman of Gonzaga celebrates a basket against McNeese on March 21, 2024. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Graham Ike scored 16 points and Anton Watson added 13 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists to power fifth-seeded Gonzaga over No. 12 seed McNeese State 83-63 in the Midwest Region on Thursday night.

Gonzaga Bulldogs 86, McNeese Cowboys 65: Box score

Ike made all six of his field goals and all four free throws while grabbing 10 rebounds.

Ben Gregg had 12 points, Nolan Hickman scored 11 and Dusty Stromer finished with 10 for the hot-shooting Bulldogs, who spoiled McNeese State’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 22 years.

They will face either No. 4 Kansas or 13th-seeded Samford in the next round.

Gonzaga, which shot 52% from the field and 48% from 3-point range, feels right at home in Salt Lake City, playing here more than any other site over the years and posting a 9-3 record.

Christian Shumate and Shahada Wells had 19 for the Cowboys.

Watson dunked on a fast break to cap a 16-2 run that lifted Gonzaga to a 44-20 lead with 2:58 to play in the first half.

McNeese State won 30 games in its magical season but couldn’t get any closer until the final minutes.

The Bulldogs’ quick passing led to a bevy of wide-open 3s and they made eight of their first 10 from beyond the arc in the first half to put the Cowboys in their biggest hole of the season.

The Cowboys stayed close for a while on sheer grit and hustle but the Bulldogs’ efficiency prevented them from running.

Most McNeese State possessions ended in off-balance jumpers and circus shots. The Cowboys didn’t record their first 3-pointer or assist until Javohn Garcia found DJ Richards Jr. for a long-range shot with 1:24 remaining in the first half.

Located in Lake Charles, Louisiana, McNeese State is a public school with 7,626 students and a sparse record of basketball success beyond producing Hall of Famer Joe Dumars.

Coach Will Wade led Louisiana State basketball back to prominence, including a Sweet Sixteen in 2019, before he was fired in 2022 after a lengthy FBI and NCAA investigation related to recruiting violations.

His Cowboys had the largest scoring margin (18.9) in the country but hadn’t faced a skilled, well-rounded team like the Bulldogs. Gonzaga is McNeese State’s first ranked opponent of the season.

The Bulldogs are hitting their stride, winning 10 of their last 11, with the only blemish a conference tournament loss to fellow NCAA Tournament team Saint Mary’s.

WINNING IS A HABIT

Gonzaga and Kansas are the only teams to win at least one game in the last 15 tournaments. The Bulldogs will face either the Jayhawks or Samford to see if they can advance to their ninth straight Sweet Sixteen.

Coach Mark Few has the highest winning percentage of any active coach at .834 and has qualified his team for the NCAA Tournament in all 25 seasons.

WHAT GAME SHOULD WE WATCH?

The Delta Center fans booed vehemently when the overhead screens stopped playing the end of the Kentucky-Oakland game and went back to showing the live action in the arena.

Oakland was leading in the final minute of a nail-biter while Gonzaga held a 75-42 advantage on the court in front of the sellout crowd.

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Hot-shooting Zags roll to easy 86-65 tourney win over McNeese