DENVER, CO. -- Don't mess with this year's Zags on the boards.
St. John's found that fact out the hard way Thursday night.
Behind a huge rebounding advantage, the veteran leadership of Steven Gray and a career high 24-points by Marquise Carter, 11th-seeded Gonzaga (25-9) beat 6-seed St. John’s 86-71 at the Pepsi Center in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga used a gigantic 41-17 rebounding edge to control the entire game against the smaller Johnnies and a big 12-0 run early in the game to run away from St. John's to advance to the Round of 32 in the Southeast Regional.
"We played great," said Gonzaga Coach Mark Few while cracking an uncharacteristic postgame smile. "I'm tickled pink, I guess."
In the first three minutes of the game St. John's (21-12) didn't show any NCAA Tournament rust after not having appeared since 2002. The Red Storm broke out to an 8-2 lead, shooting well from the field.
But Gonzaga didn't flinch. Robert Sacre threw down two dunks. Gray and Carter each hit a three-pointer to tie it early.
Then the Zags erupted on a 12-0 run by cutting up the Red Storm's vaunted zone defense with crisp passing and dribble penetration and forcing the Johnnies into poor shots.
The run started at the 15:14 mark in the first half as Elias Harris hit a three for Gonzaga's first lead of the game 15-14. On the next possession Gray lobbed to Sam Dower for a layup. Harris then hit two free throws.
52 seconds later came the play that characterized Gonzaga’s good luck on St. Patrick’s Day. Harris got the ball stripped while being fouled, but the ball kept floating up and landed in the hoop. Harris completed the three-point play at the line.
Finally Gray stole the ball near midcourt and hit an easy shot to put the Zags up 24-14 to complete the run in a little more than three minutes. From then on Saint John's never really recovered and the game was decided in that stretch.
During those first seven-plus minutes of the game, the Bulldogs hit nine of their first 12 shots, and outrebounded the Johnnies 8-1 to earn their double digit lead.
Gray got another steal late in the first half on a full court trap that eventually turned into a Carter bucket to give Gonzaga their largest lead of the first half 38-23 with just under three minutes to play.
St. John's made a small run late in the half to cut it to 43-32 on Justin Brownlee's long jumper just before the buzzer.
Gray led Gonzaga in the first half with 10 points as the Zags shot 57.7-percent from the field and pounded the Johnnies on the boards 19-7.
Paris Horne also had 10 points for the Red Storm in the first half while St. John's shot 46.2-percent.
The second half was a series of mini-runs by the Red Storm that were always answered by huge Gonzaga baskets.
Dwayne Polee, Jr. stole the ball and dunked it to get St. John’s within ten points 60-50 at the 12:35 mark in the second half, but the Red Storm never really threatened after that.
Gonzaga continued to shoot it well from long distance and own the boards to keep the lead at comfortable double digits for the entire second half.
Gonzaga's shooting was special the entire game. The Zags hit 54.9-percent compared to the Red Storm's 46.6-percent overall from the field, but Gonzaga's 9-15 (60-percent) performance from beyond the arc proved to be another huge difference in the game.
Gray finished with 16 points (including hitting four three-pointers), six rebounds and five assists while Carter added six rebounds and six assists to his 24 points.
Harris had 15 points and eight rebounds while Sacre finished with nine points and eight boards.
Dwight Hardy led St. John's with 26 points on 10-23 shooting.
Hardy gave credit to Gonzaga's defense on him after the game saying, "Once I beat one defender, another one stepped up."
St. John's Coach Steve Lavin credited Gonzaga's size as the difference in the game, calling the Zags' front line "a handful."
"It's an unusual front line, combining size, speed and length with great basketball skill," said Lavin.
Gonzaga now faces three-seed BYU. The Cougars beat No. 14 seed Wofford 74-66 in the opening game of the night session in Denver.
Tip-off for the Gonzaga-BYU game is at 4:45 p.m pacific on Saturday only on KREM 2.