SALT LAKE CITY — In a tournament made famous by the notion that anything can happen, one thing still has not: In 129 tries, no 16 seed has ever beaten a 1.
Oh, but South Dakota State sure did make it interesting for a while Thursday.
The Jackrabbits of the Summit League gnawed away at Gonzaga for the better part of 35 minutes before the Zags started looking like the No. 1 seed they are and pulled away for a 66-46 victory in the West region.
Jordan Mathews scored 16 points to lead the Bulldogs (33-1). No. 1 seeds are now 129-0 vs. 16s since the bracket was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“That 1-16 game, someone else can have that from here on out,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who also sweated out a six-point win over Southern as a No. 1 in 2013 - in the same arena, no less. “I’ve served my time in it. I’ll go ahead and land somewhere else.”
The Jackrabbits (18-17) weren’t your typical 16. They came in with nine wins in their last 11 games. They beat Gonzaga to every loose ball at the start and led for the first 17 minutes, then kept it interesting deep into the second half.
“There’s something about sports where you have a look in your eye and you look at your opponent and say, ‘You’re going to be in for a fight tonight,’” Jackrabbits coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “I thought we did that from start to finish.”
They hung in without a breakout game from Mike Daum. The nation’s second-leading scorer finished 7 for 16 from the floor with 17 points - more than eight below his average.
Daum did a nice job on Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1 center, Przemek Karnowski, holding him to four points over the first 32 minutes.
But Karnowski , who finished with 10 points, scored three straight buckets for the Bulldogs to help them expand the lead to 20 with 5 minutes left, and it was over.
Not before a bit of a scare, though.
“That was a confident, well-coached, tough team,” Few said. “They were one of those teams that came here on a roll.”
The Bulldogs draped 6-9 forward Johnathan Williams on Daum for most of the game, and he kept the South Dakota State big man in check. Williams finished with six points, 14 rebounds and two blocks, though his biggest contributions didn’t show up on the stat sheet. Williams said he got used to covering players like Daum from his years practicing against former Bulldog Kyle Wiltjer, who was an inside-outside shooter like Daum. “I just moved my feet, made him close out and tried to make it tough for him. But he’s a tough player,” Williams said.
South Dakota State guard Michael Orris made this game a tribute to his older brother , Billy, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2015. Orris, who graduated from Northern Illinois, had another year of eligibility and extended his career with the Jackrabbits. Orris went out with a leg cramp in the second half but returned. He finished with four points and three assists. “It means the world to me,” Orris said of his first and only trip to the tournament. “It’s exactly what me and coach talked about and exactly what I wanted for my life and my last season.”
While the Zags were struggling to find their footing in the first half, freshman Zach Collins kept them in it. Collins had nine of his 10 points in the first half.
Both teams walked away satisfied with their efforts on defense. This was only the fourth time this season Gonzaga has been held under 70 points and only the second time it shot worse than 40 percent (39.7). But South Dakota State only shot 31 percent, and one of its best 3-point shooters, Reed Tellinghuisen, went 1 for 10 behind the arc. “We knew on the defensive end we were doing our jobs, and eventually, the shots were going to fall,” Collins said.
Gonzaga plays Northwestern on Saturday.
Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.