When Fairleigh Dickinson’s players walked out on the Vivint Smart Home Arena floor before Thursday’s NCAA Tournament first-round game, Gonzaga coach Mark Few took a long look and said to himself, “that doesn’t look like a 16 seed, just their [physical] presence.”
But the Knights certainly played like one; Then again, maybe the No. 1 seed had something to do with that.
Gonzaga bounced back from its disappointing performance in the West Coast Conference championship game last week and pummeled the Northeast Conference tournament champions 87-49 on Thursday night.
“Just a great performance by my guys here,” said Few. “I thought they did an excellent job in all facets of the game. Obviously, it started on the defensive end in the first half.”
Gonzaga (31-3) won its 11th-straight first-round game and will meet the winner of the late Syracuse-Baylor game in a second-round game on Saturday in Salt Lake City. The 38-point win was the largest margin of victory in an NCAA Tournament game in school history, surpassing the 76-49 win over Valparaiso in 2004.
“I loved our intensity from the jump. You nailed it. And also our attention to detail,” Few said.
After scoring just 47 points nine days ago in a 13-point loss to Saint Mary’s that could have cost GU a No. 1 seed, but didn’t, Gonzaga reached that total with a minute, 45 seconds remaining in the first half on a Killian Tillie 3-pointer and rediscovered the offense that went missing in Las Vegas.
GONZAGA 87, FAIRLEIGHT DICKINSON 49
• Rui Hachimura scores 21 points and the Zags record their most lopsided NCAA Tournament win in program history (53 games)
• Gonzaga has now won 13 games by 30 or more points this season, including two against BYU
• The Zags scored more points in the first half, 53, than they did in the entire West Coast Conference championship game last week in 60-47 loss to Saint Mary’s
Rui Hachimura led Gonzaga with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Zach Norvell Jr. had 13 points and seven assists.
Brandon Clarke added 12 points and Tillie scored a season-high 17 in just his 12th game of the season. Tillie, the sixth man on a loaded team and a potential NBA first-round draft pick who has been slowed by a foot injury, provided the game’s best highlight with a punishing one-handed dunk in traffic with about 12 minutes left.
“Just an absolute incredible amount of joy and satisfaction to see somebody that worked so hard, had such a great year last year for us,” Few said.
Clarke was also impressed by the dunk, calling it “really crazy” and saying he’s been waiting for “that moment for him” all season.
FDU, which dropped to 20-14, played less than 48 hours ago in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, and it showed. The Knights missed nine of their first 10 shots and were never in it. Gonzaga shot 58 percent in the first half in rolling out to a 53-17 lead.
After scoring a career-high 33 points in FDU’s 82-76 win over Prairie View A&M Tuesday that got the Knights to Salt Lake City, senior Darnell Edge didn’t score until five minutes remained in the first half, and finished with just seven.
Edge’s long 3-pointer and a subsequent trey from teammate Mike Holloway were FDU’s best moments of the first half and came after the Knights had missed 16 of their first 19 shots.
However, the bombs that merely cut GU’s lead to 34-17 did nothing besides irritate the Zags, who rattled off 19 straight points to end the half.