CHICAGO (AP) — As busy as the schedule was, Robert Sacre felt like he was playing in a tournament. The way Gonzaga is playing, that will come later.
Steven Gray scored 20 points, Elias Harris and Sacre added 19 apiece and Gonzaga rallied to beat Illinois 85-83 in overtime Saturday after blowing a big lead.
Harris scored on a reverse layup with 12 seconds left in overtime to break an 83-83 tie. Illinois’ Brandon Paul then missed a 3-pointer, and Harris grabbed his 16th rebound, preserving the third win in six days for Gonzaga (11-3).
“In our mind, we made it as a tournament,” Sacre said. “We just knew what we needed to do, and that’s how we focused on this game.”
Illinois trailed by as many as 21 in the first half and led by eight in the second but needed a 3-pointer by Dominique Keller in the closing seconds of regulation after a miss by Demetri McCamey to tie it 79-79.
In overtime, Paul and McCamey each hit a pair of free throws to make it 83-80 before Matt Bouldin (18 points) tied it at 83 with 1:34 left.
Harris then hit the go-ahead layup for Gonzaga, which was coming off a home win over Oklahoma on Thursday.
“When we can get Elias the ball anywhere around the basket or even 8 to 10 feet off, it’s amazing how consistent he is,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said.
Keller scored 22 points for Illinois (9-5), including a 3-pointer with 9 seconds left in regulation. McCamey added 20, but the Illini couldn’t pull this one out after making the big rally and then watching a lead disappear in the second half.
“To start off the season like this, it’s definitely not what we planned,” McCamey said. “It’s not the end of the world. The Illini have high hopes and have high expectations. Everybody else did for us too.”
Coach Bruce Weber couldn’t recall a more disappointing performance.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been so upset after a loss,” he said.
Weber wanted McCamey to push the ball faster on the final play and then tried to call time out before Paul took the last shot with four seconds left.
Illinois led 76-75 before Harris hit a floater with 44 seconds left in regulation. Two free throws by Gray made it a three-point lead before Keller sent it into overtime.
That a thriller developed was a surprising twist, considering that Illinois missed its first seven shots and trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half. The Illini didn’t quit, though.
They cut it to 43-35 at the break, and when Paul buried a 3-pointer to tie it at 45 just over two minutes into the second half, the crowd erupted. Mike Davis gave them more to cheer a few minutes later when he scored on a reverse layup to put Illinois ahead for the first time at 52-50 with 15:45 remaining.
Paul soared to deliver a highlight-reel dunk when he jammed in McCamey’s missed pull-up jumper as Gonzaga committed a foul away from the ball. Illinois maintained possession, and D.J. Richardson buried a floater to make it 62-56 with 11:56 left, drawing more roars. The lead was at eight after McCamey scored on a fast-break dunk to make it 66-58 with 10:36 left.
Gonzaga hung in, though, and regained the lead when Bouldin converted a 3-pointer and drove for a layup to put the Bulldogs ahead 73-72 with about 3:26 left. Keller then scored down low to put Illinois back on top 74-73.
But with a chance to regain control, Illinois failed to take advantage.
Gonzaga’s Demetri Goodson missed the front of a one-and-one, and Bouldin threw the ball away on another possession and got blocked along the baseline, but Illinois couldn’t convert.
“They played the other night, flew yesterday and they come out and stick it to us,” Weber said. “We got here early, we bused up and just don’t have much energy. I’ve got to find something to do to change games where we spot people 19, 21 points.”