Drew Timme and the Zags were hearing the rumors during a second-half timeout. While they were in the huddle, the crowd at Ball Arena crowd was exhibiting unusual behavior. No action on the court, but fluctuations between booing and cheering.
Timme surmised that the booing was because the Purdue vs. Farleigh Dickinson game had been taken off the jumbotron. Then the cheering? “You just figured (Purdue) lost,” Timme said. That intuition was correct: The Boilermakers were the second No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 in NCAA Tournament history, and it happened as No. 3 seed Gonzaga had its hands full with Grand Canyon.
“I assumed … by what everyone (on the bench) heard, but my attention span’s not the best,” Timme told The Post after Gonzaga’s 82-70 first-round win. “So I’m like, ‘Look, we’ve got to stay on this court. (Bleep) the other circus shows going on. We’ve got our own circus to deal with.’”
The senior was still on edge at that point, even as the Bulldogs had finally established control after halftime. Timme is one loss away from his illustrious and distinct Gonzaga career ending, and he didn’t want that to happen in the first round. Not after two Sweet 16 trips and one national championship game appearance.
He let his teammates know as much at halftime, with Gonzaga nursing a 40-36 lead.
Hunter Sallis said the message in the locker room was blunt: “Guys, this could be our last game.”
“I feel like that really hit us hard,” Sallis said. “We came out with a different sort of intensity in the second half.”
And who delivered that message?
“Drew Timme, of course.”
Timme scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half, finishing at that total on an efficient 13 shot attempts. He added six rebounds, and Julian Strawther shepherded Gonzaga with a team-leading 28 points and 10 rebounds. Mark Few’s squad opened up a 22-point lead with nine minutes remaining before Grand Canyon, bolstered by a massive traveling student section, made one last push.
Timme expected as much from the underdog Lopes.
“You see what’s happening around the tournament,” he told The Post. “We said there was a lot of parity this year, but I think we’re really seeing it now. So nobody’s safe. It doesn’t matter what number is next to your name.”
In the middle of a first round of upsets, Grand Canyon kept a riveting foothold on the Zags for the first 20 minutes. The Lopes held Gonzaga scoreless for five minutes during a 10-0 run to claim an early 12-10 lead. Once that stretched to 28-21, the alarms were sounding.
A 13, a 15 and (as everyone soon found out) a 16 won in the opening round. Would GCU be the 14 to complete the March grand slam?
Timme wasn’t letting his college career end like that. A back-and-forth sequence late in the half featured seven lead changes in two minutes, culminating with a Timme offensive rebound and reverse layup on the second try. The Zags had to earn every inch of their slim halftime lead.
That’s when Timme’s leadership clocked in.
“I was like, ‘Look. We were nervous. We looked nervous. We played a little tentative,’” he recalled. “I myself was nervous. People say it’s like my ninth March Madness. Whatever. Still get nervous. It’s a big event. It’s high-pressure. It’s fun. A lot of people are talking and all that. You get excited, and I think we were a little over-excited.
“But I think we just calmed down, and I was like, ‘Look, this could be our last 20 minutes. You never know. So do you want it to be, or do you not want it to be?’”
Four minutes into the half Timme muscled his way to a bucket and a foul. He unleashed an animated “(Bleep)!” then drained the free throw for a 48-40 lead.
The chalk handled its business after that.
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