Rushed Reactions: #2 Gonzaga 86, #15 North Dakota State 76

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 21st, 2015


Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Dexter Werner: Unlikely March Hero (USA Today Images)

Dexter Werner: Unlikely March Hero (USA Today Images)

  1. Physical Mismatch. Gonzaga has three guys taller than 6’10”; North Dakota State has three guys taller than 6’6”. By halftime, those three Bison had accumulated seven fouls and it could have been worse. The Bison are a quality team with fun guards that had a great season, but they never should have had a chance tonight even as Dexter Werner was putting in improbable second half buckets to get the Bison back within six down the stretch. Whenever the Bulldogs wanted to turn it on, they could just pound the ball inside and either draw fouls or get easy buckets. And hey, you wanna double any of those big guys? Good luck, as they’re all adept passers out of the post to find spot-up shooters. Gonzaga will run into teams that can bang with them down low, but tonight was not one of those times.
  2. Defense Is A Concern. The biggest concern that has been expressed about the Zags’ chances this March is on the defensive end. Tonight, North Dakota State, a team ranked 194th in offensive efficiency nationally, scored 1.35 points per possession in the second half against the Bulldogs. Now, there were some extraordinary circumstances here and Gonzaga wasn’t exactly giving a terrific effort. But that in and of itself is a concern. This is a game that Gonzaga should have won easily without breaking a sweat, but instead they gave their fans more heartburn than anybody ever expected.
  3. Veteran Leadership. With the physical mismatch readily apparent right out of the gate, attendees were expecting a chance to get to their cars early tonight. In fact, it looked like the Zags thought they had somewhere else they would rather be too. But whenever the Bison made it too close for comfort, there was either Kyle Wiltjer or Kevin Pangos there to turn the tide. When the Bison cut the Zags’ lead to six points with 11 minutes left, Wiltjer drilled a jumper to spearhead a quick 6-0 run. Then the Bulldogs relaxed again, Werner went to work, and you looked up at the six-minute mark and it’s a six-point game again. Pangos then stepped into a three. An overexuberant Werner runs into Pangos. The three falls, Pangos completes the four-point play, and the outcome is never seriously in doubt again. Wiltjer and Pangos combined for 41 points on a highly-efficient 22 field goal attempts.

Star of the GameDexter Werner. This guy went from a dude who was a walking punchline as the Gonzaga bigs pounded him and drew easy fouls in the first half… to a second half performance where, with nothing to lose, the 6’6” home-state star put his head down and started knocking in putbacks, runners and several other insane shots on his way to insta-legend status. He had any impartial fans in the stands on his side and calling for more of @Dexbeezy. On the game’s biggest stage, Werner scored a career-high 22 points (previous high 17). In a tournament built on madness and the rise of nobodies to cult heroes, Dexter Werner was a true March Madness wildcard.

Sights & Sounds. Gonzaga Fans. Spokane to Seattle is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump, but Bulldogs’ fans made the 280-mile trip in droves, packing the Key Arena with a healthy amount of fans and turning the opening round game into a home game. Just another perk of being the big boy on the block. Zags’ fans definitely got a little chippy late in the game as the Bison were still trying to play the foul and timeout game down while down 10 points in the final minute, but after the beating they’ve taken among casual college basketball fans, you can cut them a break.

Wildcard. North Dakota State. After winning the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament game last season, head coach Saul Phillips left for greener pastures at Ohio University. Five seniors graduated. Assistant coach Dave Richman slid over one seat and took the head coaching job and the Bison were picked fifth in the preseason Summit League projections. The team has spent the season practicing in warehouses and lifting weights in a vacant grocery store. That’s a story from right out of the Hollywood back lot. The team went on to win the Summit League automatic bid and then Dexter Freaking Werner happens. Now, on to the future. Werner – a homegrown kid, along with freshman A.J. Jacobson – returns in 2015-16 along with everybody else except senior Lawrence Alexander. And for the foreseeable future, the Bison look like a fixture atop the Summit League.


  • Dexter Werner on his magical night. “Honestly, it was just a little blurry. I told coach that’s how we practice it: I trip on a guy’s foot, fade away and bank it in. I took some looks I probably wouldn’t take, but I was hitting so… like I said, I wouldn’t have gotten those looks without all the pressure they [Gonzaga] were putting on our wings, so I just had to take it as it came.
  • Kyle Wiltjer on Dexter Werner: “I would pick him up any day. In a men’s league game, he’d be real good.”

What’s Next?  Gonzaga will play Iowa on Sunday with a chance at its first Sweet Sixteen since 2009 on the line. The Zags will be the rightful favorite, but that’s also definitely a game they could lose. North Dakota State finishes the season at 21-13 and their future is bright.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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