Nigel Williams-Goss had 18 points and No. 11 Gonzaga hit 13 threes to beat No. 21 Iowa State, 73-71, for the title in the Advocare Invitational.
Gonzaga took a 49-34 lead into the break as we saw just how good this Zags team can be on the offensive end of the floor.
They began the game on fire from beyond the arc, as Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss couldn’t miss.
When Iowa State was forced to try and run the shooters off the three-point line, it opened up the paint for Gonzaga’s massive front court to take advantage of Iowa State’s lack of size.
None of that should surprise you.
We knew how good this Gonzaga team could and should be this season.
They should have cruised through this tournament field relatively unscathed, but Iowa State gave them a fight in the second half on Sunday afternoon.
And that, to me, was the real story of the Advocare Invitational.
More than the 29 points, 12 boards and two blocks that Deonte Burton produced on Sunday – critical in its own right, which I’ll get to in a second – what was so impressive about this game was the fact that Iowa State was able to fight back from a huge hole based on the strength of their defense just a day after holding Miami to .789 points-per-possession in a semifinals win.
Iowa State held Gonzaga to just 24 second half points and 29.7 percent shooting from the floor. After the Zags torched them for 22 points in the paint in the first half, Iowa State held a team with four players taller than the tallest Cyclone to just four points in the paint in the final 20 minutes. At the same time, the Cyclones were able to get seven offensive rebounds and eight second-chance points, which matters because it proves that their attempts at playing small-ball can work against the biggest teams in the country.
That’s where Burton comes into the equation.
He had 21 of his 29 points in the second half. He was hitting jumpers when bigger Gonzaga defenders played off of him and beating them off the dribble when they came out to respect his stroke. He almost single-handedly forced Gonzaga to switch to a 2-3 zone, and then became the thorn in their side in the lane, getting to the offensive glass and routinely finding space along the baseline to score.
And he did all of that while holding his own in the paint defensively against the likes of Johnathan Williams III, Zach Collins and Killian Tillie.
He even blocked a layup attempt from Przemek Karnowski for good measure.
We cannot expect this kind of performance from Burton on a nightly basis. In fact, if he’s shown us anything throughout his career, it’s that inconsistency is about the only thing he does consistently.
But at least we know now what he can do when he’s playing well.
And Steve Prohm knows that this experiment with small-ball is something that should have success this season.