Two former Ferris High School teammates found themselves wearing opposing uniforms as Gonzaga faced the University of Denver on Monday. Gonzaga's Sean Mallon no longer catches dishes from his former partner-in-action, Erik Benzel. Benzel, a junior guard for Denver, intended on making his homecoming a memorable one by knocking off the 16th ranked Zags.
The Denver Pioneers came out blazing, seeming to sink every shot they attempted. Denver would hit 54.5% from three-point land in the first half. Benzel, who hadn't been recruited by the Zags and had friends and family in attendance, contributed immensely to Denver's success beyond the arc. He hit four threes in the opening minutes to help give the Pioneers a 21-12 advantage; it seemed evident this wasn't going to be the easy "W" the crowd had expected.
While not at full-strength yet, Ronny Turiaf battled inside for a game high 21 points.
Despite the Gonzaga big men's efforts, Denver still maintained its lead. That's when Blake Stepp came alive. After being held scoreless for the opening of the contest, Stepp made three aggressive drives for lay-ins to tie the game at 28-28. Less than a minute later, Stepp hit his signature long three to give his Zags their first lead, 31-30. Blake finished with 14 points (all scored in the first half) and seven assists.
Erik Benzel burned Gonzaga for 13 first-half points, but was forced to sit the remainder of the half after being tagged with his third foul. This gave the Bulldogs the opportunity they were looking for. The Zags went on a 21-6 run and ended the half favored, 45-35.
Gonzaga opened the half with a decisive run, begun by Tony Skinner's three and fueled by freshmen Adam Morrison, who recorded his first collegiate double-double (12 points and 12 rebounds), and Sean Mallon, who finished with six points. That run gave the Zags a 65-45 advantage. The Pioneer's other star, forward Brett Starkey, fouled out with 9:30 left to play. Starkey was Denver's best defender against Gonzaga's tall forwards. Violette finished with 16 points and Turiaf tallied 21 points. Hustle, something that had appeared to be lacking in the Zags against Idaho, was in abundance against the aggressive Pioneers, particularly in the 2nd half. Kyle Bankhead would have plenty of floor burns and Skinner, who scored seven points, flew to the offensive boards. All Bulldogs were given the opportunity to play, including the crowd-favorite Stephen Gentry, aka Shaggy, as Gonzaga weathered the early Denver storm 90-58.
Erroll Knight was forced to miss the game due to an injury but should be ready to play against Georgia in a soldout Spokane Arena on Saturday, November 29 at 1:00pm.