College basketball fans had to stay up late to watch the last of Thursday’s slate of NCAA tournament games. The Seton Hall-Gonzaga game didn’t tip off until 10:53 p.m. ET and when it finished early Friday morning on the East Coast, the Bulldogs became the seventh lower-seeded team to win in the first round with a 68–52 win.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt duo of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis carried the load (34 points and 21 rebounds) for the Bulldogs while Seton Hall’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead, struggled mightily to score the ball. Whitehead was 4 of 24 from the field and an NCAA tournament-record-tying 0 of 10 from behind the arc for a team-high 10 points. He appeared physically and mentally frustrated, needing to breath from an oxygen mask multiple times in the game and committing a flagrant-1 foul wrestling for a loose ball in the first half.
Whitehead did a nice job setting up his teammates with eight assists, but the Pirates’ shooting woes weren't limited to him. As a team, Seton Hall was 20 of 61 (32.8%) from the field and 8 of 21 (38.1%) from the free throw line. The Pirates cut their deficit to six points with less than seven minutes left in the game but their comeback bid fell apart.
Forward Angel Delgado fouled out with 4:45 left in the game and Ismael Sanogo had to be helped to the locker room with a dislocated right shoulder 23 seconds later. On the next play, Michael Nzei turned the ball over on the inbounds pass, which led to a bucket for Sabonis that put the game out of reach.
Why it matters
For the eighth straight season, Gonzaga has won at least one game in the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs won their sixth straight game at a road or neutral site by knocking off a surging, incredibly athletic Seton Hall team. After a regular season that left more to be desired, the Zags defeated one of the hottest teams in the country and held one of the country’s premier scorers to the worst shooting night of his career.
Even with its first round exit, Seton Hall took a step forward as a program this season, winning the Big East tournament and making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006. The team has a strong core with six sophomores and it only loses rotation guard Derrick Gordon to graduation. The future looks bright at Seton Hall, but the Pirates will have to experience the rest of this year’s tournament as viewers, while Gonzaga advances to the second round yet again.
A second round matchup against No. 3 seed Utah awaits Gonzaga on Saturday, which will be a battle between strong West Coast teams with prolific big men. Sabonis will match up against fellow sophomore Jakob Poeltl, who is averaging 17.6 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Both teams have tremendous size and experienced veterans, setting the stage for an exciting matchup in Denver.