It was hardly a resounding statement in the waning hours of the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament, but Gonzaga produced enough winning plays when it got dicey to beat North Dakota State, 86-76, Friday night at KeyArena.

Share story

It was hardly a resounding statement in the waning hours of the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament, but Gonzaga produced enough winning plays when it got dicey to beat North Dakota State, 86-76, Friday night at KeyArena.

The victory earns the No. 2-seeded Zags a Sunday afternoon date against No. 7 seed Iowa, which was impressive in drubbing Davidson, 83-52.

GU’s victory marks its seventh straight year of winning games in the tournament, a streak bettered only by Kansas’ nine. It’s getting over the hump of the round-of-32 that’s lately been troublesome, as the Zags haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2009.

Game at a glance

Player of the game: Kyle Wiltjer. The junior’s stat line was impressive enough: 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting, plus eight rebounds. But that doesn’t fully capture Wiltjer’s impact on a game that was much tenser than the final score might indicate. North Dakota State stayed within range for most of the night, if not exactly within striking distance. Every time the Bison got close enough to truly stoke upset hopes, Wiltjer provided an answer.

Key to the game: Offensive rebounding. Gonzaga is far from a traditional mid-major when it comes to pure height, and the Bulldogs used their towering edge over the Summit League champions to their advantage all night. The Zags grabbed 11 offensive boards to offset an uncharacteristically cold three-point shooting night (7 of 21).

Turning point: Dexter Werner was on the verge of full North Dakotan folk hero status when he bounced in another strong finish to pull the Bison within six with 6:07 to go. Then the 6-foot-6 big man ran into Kevin Pangos as the latter knocked in a three-pointer from the left wing for a four-point play. Pangos added another triple shortly afterward, Domantas Sabonis pushed the lead to 13 and the NDSU never got within single digits again.

Quote: “They took a really good punch from us and still got us,” North Dakota State coach David Richman.

Matt Pentz

After Gonzaga took a 13-point halftime lead, the Zags stretched it to 53-35 within six minutes of the second half, and it looked like they were on the way to a blowout.

NCAA tournament

A 6-6, 240-pound load named Dexter Werner had other ideas. Werner somehow bobbed and weaved against the Gonzaga bigs time and again for big baskets, and when he wasn’t victimizing them, it was freshman guard Paul Miller.

A three-point play by Werner got NDSU within 57-51, and a spin move on Domas Sabonis pulled the Bison within 68-62 as the clock ticked toward six minutes.

There, the Zags finally got some separation. Werner fouled Kevin Pangos on a successful three-pointer, and when NDSU got the deficit back to 72-64, Pangos drained a three against center Chris Kading. Sabonis ‘ rebound basket of Byron Wesley’s miss made it 77-64 with 4:02 left and GU was out of the woods.

The Zags ended an uncharacteristically sleepy day in the tournament by surging past the Bison with a 12-0 first-half run on the way to a 43-30 halftime lead.

Gonzaga was vastly bigger, and it showed in the foul column. The Bison, regular-season and tournament winner of the Summit Conference, committed 13 first-half fouls to Gonzaga’s three, and their top two big men, Kading and Werner, each had three by the break.

The night didn’t begin well for the Zags, who allowed three three-pointers in the first 98 seconds to fall behind 9-4. But Gonzaga tied it 9-9 on Gary Bell Jr.’s left-hand drive to the hole.

NDSU’s last lead, 13-12, came on an 8-footer in the key by Werner, who had nine first-half points.

Then the Zags turned on the jets, and NDSU’s next six possessions consisted of three missed shots and three turnovers.

Game at a glance

Player of the game: Kyle Wiltjer. The junior’s stat line was impressive enough: 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting, plus eight rebounds. But that doesn’t fully capture Wiltjer’s impact on a game that was much tenser than the final score might indicate. North Dakota State stayed within range for most of the night, if not exactly within striking distance. Every time the Bison got close enough to truly stoke upset hopes, Wiltjer provided an answer.

Key to the game: Offensive rebounding. Gonzaga is far from a traditional mid-major when it comes to pure height, and the Bulldogs used their towering edge over the Summit League champions to their advantage all night. The Zags grabbed 11 offensive boards to offset an uncharacteristically cold three-point shooting night (7 of 21).

Turning point: Dexter Werner was on the verge of full North Dakotan folk hero status when he bounced in another strong finish to pull the Bison within six with 6:07 to go. Then the 6-foot-6 big man ran into Kevin Pangos as the latter knocked in a three-pointer from the left wing for a four-point play. Pangos added another triple shortly afterward, Domantas Sabonis pushed the lead to 13 and the NDSU never got within single digits again.

Quote: “They took a really good punch from us and still got us,” North Dakota State coach David Richman.

Matt Pentz

Kyle Wiltjer got the run going with a reverse layup and added a three from on top. Bell stole the ball from the Bison’s standout guard, Lawrence Alexander, and slammed it home for a 19-13 lead.

Przemek Karnowski hit a free throw and Kyle Dranginis rebounded the next one, fed Karnowski for two, and then Karnowski freed himself inside for the hoop that made it 24-13.

Sunday’s games in Seattle; winners advance to Sweet 16

SOUTH REGION Iowa vs. Gonzaga, 4:10 p.m., TBS

EAST REGION Northern Iowa vs. Louisville, 6:40 p.m., TBS

North Dakota State tried a little zone defense but without great success. The Bison got it back to an eight-point deficit, but the Zags stretched it out again as Wesley drove against the zone and Wiltjer and Bell each added a pair of free throws before the half.