PORTLAND, Ore. — After a first half in which the top-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs trailed the No. 9 seeded Memphis Tigers 41-31 on Saturday in a second-round basketball game men’s ball of the NCAA Tournament, leading scorer Drew Timme took it upon himself to set the tone for a second-half comeback.
First, Timme delivered a motivational message in the hallway before his team returned to the field, a message he cleaned up in a postgame interview with CBS reporter Andy Katz and summed up as follows: “I don’t care what happens at the end of the game, whether we lose or win, we won’t come out as no…sweet guys.”
Then Timme continued his remarks with the production as Gonzaga rallied for an 82-78 victory, qualifying for the Sweet 16 for the seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament – a streak that is one of the four longest in tournament history, joined by two from Duke under Mike Krzyzewski (nine and seven, respectively) and a record 13 straight Sweet 16s for North Carolina from 1981-1993 under coach Dean Smith.
After Memphis opened the second half with a bucket to extend the lead to 12, Timme scored the game’s next seven points. Overall, he scored 14 of the Zags’ 16 points in a row when they cut the deficit to two, making a 3-pointer and hitting from a variety of difficult angles.
“It seemed like he got every offensive rebound, every foul, every bucket for them back-to-back,” Tigers coach Penny Hardaway said. “We witnessed it on TV, just watching him be so dominant, and to see him in person… he took some fantastic shots. Great defense and he always made them. That’s why he is who he is . “
For his part, Timme would rather not need second-half heroics.
“I would like to stop doing that,” he said. “I would like to do a better job in the first half because it’s not a recipe for going far and winning a lot of games.”
“I think sometimes he likes to push his way through these games,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
It was a second straight slow start for the Zags in Portland. Facing No. 16 seed Georgia State in Thursday’s opener, the Bulldogs led by just two at halftime before turning the game into a rout with a 21-0 second-half run. Timme had a team-high 10 points in the first half of that game, but shot 3 of 7 from the field and missed 5 of 9 free throw attempts.
On Saturday, Timme was even calmer in the first half, scoring just four points on 1-of-3 shooting and 2-of-4 on free throws. Facing a talented Memphis team that had won 13 of its previous 15 games after a 9-8 start, Gonzaga didn’t have the same kind of margin for error this time around.
Although the Zags have been 0-3 so far this season when trailing at halftime, Few didn’t deliver a fiery talk at halftime.
“I don’t think I was screaming and screaming,” Few said, “but I was a little bit flustered that we were playing ‘soft,’ so it wasn’t Drew’s original thought.”
“It was reiterated,” chimed Timme.
After all, few had reason to trust. Gonzaga faced a variety of obstacles in last year’s undefeated run in the National Championship Game, where the team was ultimately defeated by the Baylor Bears.
“These guys are battle tested,” Few said, referring to upperclass Timme and guard Andrew Nembhard. “These two have been through it all.”
On the opposing sideline, Hardaway admitted what happened to his team in the second half.
“They went to championship level,” he said. “We were the most aggressive team in the first half. We kind of shocked them, we took their confidence. I knew coming out after halftime that they were going to make an adjustment because it’s a great team and they did it. They had to take shots and they had to stop and they went both ways.”
Despite the push led by Timme, the Tigers still stayed in the game until the dying seconds. A 3-pointer from Lester Quinones brought Memphis within two at 78-76, and two free throws from Landers Nolley II again produced a two-point game with just over six seconds left.
Both times Nembhard made a pair of free throws, preventing the Tigers from ever having an opportunity to tie the score or take the lead – no guarantee on a night the Zags shot 13 of 24 (52%) from the fault line, after a performance of 16 out of 30 (53%) on Thursday.
“For him to step up and hit those free throws when literally everyone on our team was smoking them was probably the most impressive thing of the night if you ask me,” Few said.
On the other side, Hardaway was certainly impressed with Timme.
“We understand we were the underdogs and we were going to have to fight those guys and went halftime up to 10 and took it to 12 and then the Drew Timme effect kicked in,” Hardaway said. “He had some tough shots, controlled the game, caused fouls for our guys and the rest is history.”