OMAHA, Neb. — Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr. got off to a slow start against Creighton for the second year in a row. Like last year, he finished with a flurry.
Norvell scored 23 of his career-high 28 points in the second half, and top-ranked Gonzaga wiped out an early double-digit deficit and beat Creighton 103-92 on Saturday.
Norvell’s shot was off throughout the first 20 minutes. Coming out of halftime, coach Mark Few drew up a play just for him. Norvell took a pass from Rui Hachimura, went hard to the basket and converted a three-point play. He scored nine of the Zags’ first 11 points of the half.
“When he makes his first one,” Few said, “it’s game on.”
Norvell has had a habit of starting slowly. Gonzaga, missing two key players because of injury, needed all the points he could provide against a high-scoring Creighton team.
“I wanted to be aggressive starting off the half, get myself a chance to get going,” Norvell said, “and it went well.”
Last year, Norvell scored all 21 of his points in the second half in a 91-74 come-from-behind victory over the Bluejays in Spokane, Washington.
“We played 40 minutes of pretty good basketball against them the last two years,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “Unfortunately, those 40 minutes didn’t happen the same day. They are a problem to get stopped.”
The Bulldogs (8-0), who took over the No. 1 ranking this week after beating Duke in the Maui Invitational, overcame a boisterous crowd of more than 18,000 at the CHI Health Center to win in their first true road game.
“It was just a great basketball game, and I’m not saying that just because we ended up on top,” Few said. “It was really high-level play going on, high-level shot-making. Creighton’s offense is really something special.”
Norvell said the Zags can build off the win.
“It was big-time for us,” he said. “Coming into an environment like this with a good crowd, a well-coached opponent and knowing they would play really hard, we knew it was going to be a battle. We wanted to take the fight to them. It didn’t go well for us the first half. They made some tough shots. We were able to stay with it, stay poised and confident, and we were able to get a win.”
The Zags, down 48-41 at halftime, took their first lead since early in the game on a Corey Kispert 3-pointer that put them up 66-65. They held Creighton (6-2) scoreless for nearly four minutes in the middle of the second half while going on a 12-0 run to go up 84-73. Norvell hit two 3-pointers and a layup during the spurt while Creighton missed five shots and turned over the ball three times.
“He’s a rhythm guy, he’s a rhythm guy in practice,” Few said of Norvell. “He missed a couple real easy shots in the first half. You can always tell the way it’s coming off his hand. It takes a special, confident, courageous player to keep taking shots like that. He’s definitely that.”
NUMBERS TO NOTE
Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke added 27 points and 10 rebounds and Hachimura had 22 points and 11 boards for the Bulldogs. Josh Perkins had 13 points to go with a career-high 13 assists. … Norvell was 1 for 6 on 3-pointers in the first half and 5 for 11 in the second. … The Zags upped their scoring average to 98.4 points, second in the nation. … Ty-Shon Alexander led the Bluejays with 27 points. Damien Jefferson had 15 and Martin Krampelj 10.
THE BIG PICTURE
Gonzaga: With Geno Crandall (hand) and Killian Tillie (ankle) out because of injuries, this was a major test. The Zags had trailed for only 23 of a possible 280 minutes coming into the game, and they had to play from behind most of the afternoon until they took control in the last 10 minutes.
Creighton: The Bluejays fell short of knocking off a No. 1 opponent for the first time in three tries. But they are much further ahead of where most expected them to be after getting picked ninth in the 10-team Big East.