PHOENIX – Gonzaga went into its game against Texas Tech expecting to be pushed, poked and prodded. The Red Raiders may have a new coach, but they still have one of college basketball’s most aggressive defenses.
The key to withstanding it would be to execute and not get frustrated.
The Zags did both.
Andrew Nembhard scored 16 points, Rasir Bolton added 15 and No. 5 Gonzaga fought off No. 25 Texas Tech’s tenacious defense for a 69-55 win in the Colangelo Classic on Saturday.
“Anytime you play Texas Tech, we talked all week about really having to amp our toughness up,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s not only physical toughness, it’s mental toughness. Baskets are hard to come by and it’s hard to get baskets in the half court, so I was proud of our guys in both aspects.”
The Bulldogs (9-2) withstood Texas Tech’s defensive pressure most of the afternoon in the desert, limiting turnovers while working the ball around for open looks.
The Red Raiders doubled down on the post nearly every possession, holding Timme to seven points on 2-of-4 shooting and freshman phenom Chet Holmgren to five points on 1-of-5 shooting.
Gonzaga overcame it by working the ball out to the 3-point arc, where they shot 13 of 31. The Zags went to the 3 to pull away, hitting four during a big second-half run to stretch an eight-point halftime lead to 16.
“I guess that’s what we’re made of, who we are,” said Bolton, who made five 3-pointers. “We weather a run and come out on top in the game.”
The Red Raiders (8-2) struggled offensively without leading scorer Terrence Shannon Jr., who didn’t play after leaving Tuesday’s game against Arkansas State with back spasms. Texas Tech shot 37% and wasn’t able to mount a charge after Gonzaga’s big second-half run.
Kevin McCullar and Adonis Arms had 14 points each to lead the Red Raiders.
“Any team that has the talent and caliber of player of TJ Shannon, it’s going to make a difference,” Texas Tech coach Mark Adams said. “He’s a problem for other teams and makes a big difference for us on offense.”
Texas Tech has made a seamless transition to Adams since Chris Beard left for Texas. The Red Raiders rolled through their early schedule, lost a close game at Providence and knocked off No. 18 Tennessee in overtime at Madison Square Garden.
Texas Tech has played the kind of defense Adams helped Beard establish during five seasons in Lubbock, entering Saturday’s game fifth in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
The Red Raiders faced their biggest test yet against a Gonzaga team that leads the nation in shooting at 53% and is second in offensive efficiency.
Texas Tech did a decent job of mucking it up in the first half, holding the Zags to 12-of-30 shooting while preventing them from going on any big runs. Davion Warren had the defensive play of the half, tracking down Nembhard to block his layup in transition off the backboard.
Where the Red Raiders had trouble was on offense, particularly with Shannon out.
Gonzaga is annually one of the nation’s best defensive teams and hounded Texas Tech throughout the first half. The Zags held the Red Raiders to 11-of-27 shooting and led 34-26 at halftime.
Texas Tech’s defense continued to cause problems early in the second half and its offense found a bit of a rhythm, using an 8-0 run to pull within 42-40.
Gonzaga answered with a 3-point spree, making four straight during an 18-4 run to go up 60-44. Texas Tech went back to struggling on offense after that, unable to mount any kind of run.
“Gonzaga is such an efficient team and does so many things well,” Adams said. “We were able to keep Timme and Chet both in check. I thought we did a good job with those guys – that was our emphasis – but they’re such a balanced offensive team they got the ball to those 3-point shooters and made some shots.”
Texas Tech played and guarded hard, but will likely drop back out of the AP Top 25 by falling short against the Zags.
Gonzaga was efficient at both ends, as it usually is, to grind out another win over a Top-25 team.
Shannon, who averages 14.3 points per game, did not play in the second half against Arkansas State and was out for warmups before the Gonzaga game.
“We hoped he was going to play,” Adams said. “It was about 50-50 and we didn’t feel like he could go, wasn’t close to 100%.”
Texas Tech hosts Eastern Washington on Wednesday.
Gonzaga hosts Northern Arizona on Monday.