There were two questions heading into Midwest No. 6 Seton Hall’s matchup with No. 11 Gonzaga. How would the Bulldogs deal with Big East tournament Most Outstanding Player Isaiah Whitehead? And how would the Pirates defend Gonzaga’s talented front court tandem of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer? In the end it was Mark Few’s team that had the answers, as they beat the Pirates 68-52 behind a dominant performance from Sabonis.
The sophomore from Lithuania led the way with 21 points, 16 rebounds and four assists, and despite shooting 9-for-20 from the field he (and his teammates) set the tone from a physicality standpoint. Seton Hall began the game defending him straight up and not sending over help, but the change to doubling the post didn’t do much to deter Sabonis either. Wiltjer chipped in with 13 points and seven rebounds, and while Gonzaga had its moments on the offense it was their defense and rebounding that decided the outcome.
As a team Seton Hall shot 32.3 percent from the field and 4-for-21 from three, with their talented point guard struggling mightily. Whitehead shot 4-for-24 from the field, which is incredibly tough to overcome despite the fact that he dished out eight assists. The sophomore played tired for most of the game in Denver, and while the altitude can be cited Gonzaga’s defense had a lot more to do with it. The Bulldogs used multiple defenders on Whitehead, making him work for everything, and more often than not he settled for challenged shots or looked to force the issue.
With Derrick Gordon being the lone rotation player out of eligibility, the Pirates will enter next season with the expectations of being a contender in the Big East. But Thursday night Kevin Willard’s group ran into a program that’s now won at least one game in each of their last seven NCAA tournament appearances.
Next up for Gonzaga is No. 3 Utah, which took care of No. 14 Fresno State in its tournament opener. And with the Runnin’ Utes being led by center Jakob Poeltl, the Bulldogs will need another high-level performance from their front court Saturday night while taking better care of the basketball (20 turnover vs. Seton Hall).