Two hot teams clashed as Gonzaga and Michigan met in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis, let’s relive that shocking game.
Even in a pandemic-shortened season, there were still plenty of exciting games in college basketball last year. We continue our series, breaking down the 40 best of the bunch, having already taken a close look at three such games. This time, we’ll look back to one of the most exciting early-season non-conference tournaments.
37. Michigan 82, #8 Gonzaga 64 (Battle 4 Atlantis Championship Game)
November 29, 2019, Imperial Arena in Nassau, Bahamas
The early season tournaments bring plenty of excitement in college basketball, especially the major ones. While the Maui Invitational gets a lot of focus, the Battle 4 Atlantis has certainly joined it among must-watch television. This was certainly the case in 2019, as Michigan and Gonzaga both took care of their first two opponents, absolutely earning their spot in the title game.
Michigan entered the year with several question marks as the program began anew under head coach Juwan Howard. The Wolverines still had Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske, among others, but lost plenty of impressive talent from the previous seasons. Still, they were exceeding expectations, having taken care of Iowa State and #6 North Carolina already at Atlantis, with a home win over a good Creighton squad also on their resume.
For Gonzaga, they faced their typically high expectations, especially with the amount of talent on the team, highlighted by Filip Petrusev and Corey Kispert, who both had 20-point games already in the Bahamas. The Bulldogs had taken care of Southern Miss and then won a close overtime battle with #11 Oregon in the previous two days and were ready for another nonconference tournament title.
The Bulldogs got off to a solid start, building a 5-point lead in the opening minutes, but Michigan came to play. A 10-0 run flipped the script, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers from Isaiah Livers. Michigan held a slight lead until a six-minute scoring drought plunged Gonzaga into an 11-point hole, the deficit they’d face at the half.
This Gonzaga team was built to win games, and they certainly didn’t panic. The defense reemerged, and the Bulldogs scored the first 8 points of the second half, making this a game again. A 3-pointer from Admon Gilder made this just a 2-point Michigan lead at the 16-minute mark, but the Bulldogs would never get closer than this.
Michigan’s offense exploded while Gonzaga started turning the ball over and missing shots. Within five minutes, Michigan led this game 59-40 and Gonzaga was in big trouble. Led by a 7-point spurt from Killian Tillie and a few well-timed takeaways, the Bulldogs were back within 11 points with just under seven minutes to play but would come no closer down the stretch. The Wolverines coasted down the stretch, securing an unexpected 18-point victory.
Considered an afterthought a few days earlier, Michigan walked off the court with the Battle 4 Atlantis, knocking off their second top-10 team in as many days. For the second straight day, they had overwhelmed their opponents, with their offense the key in taking the Bulldogs out of this game. The Wolverines made 12 of their 23 3-point attempts and protected the ball better.
Killian Tillie’s 20 points represented Gonzaga’s only double-digit scorer in what would be their worst game of the entire season. The Bulldogs would only lose one more game down the stretch, falling on the road to BYU in February, and emerged as one of the very best teams in the nation. They’d see Kispert, Petrusev, and others really break out as the season continued, but on this night in the Bahamas, they just got outclassed by the Wolverines.
As a result of those big wins, Michigan would find themselves #4 in the nation the following week and would be ranked for much of the rest of the season. They struggled to play consistently in Big Ten play, finishing in 9th place at 10-10, but certainly had some of the best nonconference performances among Big Ten teams. These Wolverines responded well in Howard’s first year in charge and were a certain NCAA Tournament team.
Even though Michigan struggled at times in Big Ten play and Gonzaga crushed many of their opponents, on this day it was Michigan’s time to shine. They showed that they belonged when many had counted them out. The Bulldogs had plenty of opportunities to show us what they were made of, but the Wolverines showered their mettle as well, giving us one of the season’s most unexpected games.