Gonzaga’s Mark Few knows a good coaching job when he sees it, and he credited Air Force counterpart Jeff Reynolds and his Falcons for their efficient performance at both ends of the court.
Air Force gave Gonzaga fits for 30 minutes before the Bulldogs put together a 19-7 run, sparked by reserve forward Sam Dower, to defeat the Falcons 70-60 in front of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“They ran 30 seconds off the shot clock and executed perfectly,” Few said. “Their coaching staff did a great job, their players did a great job. They’re a very hard team to play, especially on short (one day) preparation.
“You just don’t see the matchup (zone), the switching and all that and our guys took some time to adjust. We finally got the right personnel in there to start making plays.”
Dower, filling in for center Robert Sacre, who dislocated his right thumb in practice Wednesday, poured in 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds – all in the second half – to help Gonzaga (9-2) to its fourth straight win. Kevin Pangos made six 3-pointers and scored 23 points. Elias Harris had 10 of his 12 points in the second half and Gary Bell Jr. chipped in 10 points.
The Bulldogs needed every ounce of production from those four to turn back the Falcons (6-3), who lost leading scorer Michael Lyons (18.4 ppg) to a high-ankle sprain in the first 3 minutes. Air Force barely missed a beat, shooting at least 50 percent in each half and keeping GU’s offense in check for the first 20 minutes, outside of Pangos’ 17 points.
“That (Lyons’ injury) hurt us, but I thought our kids gave us the energy and passion we needed,” Reynolds said. “We just weren’t able to execute down the stretch.”
Air Force opened the second half with a 10-4 spurt to take a 36-32 lead before the Bulldogs began solving the Falcons’ defenses.
“We were able to take their bigs out of the game early,” Reynolds said. “Then their guards were making those 3s.”
And then Dower checked in with 16:52 left for Sacre, who had played 17 minutes but had difficulty catching the ball. Bell’s basket and Pangos’ 3 gave Gonzaga the lead, 37-36. Dower hit the offensive boards and quickly scored six points. He made a steal and fed Bell for an open corner 3.
“I didn’t rebound, I didn’t score in the first half,” Dower said. ‘I knew with Rob injured, I had to do as much as I could in the second half. Those rebounds got me going. After that, I got some touches in the post. The guards believed in me and I’m thankful for that.”
Dower added six more points, a steal, a blocked shot, and his offensive rebound led to a pair of Harris free throws. Pangos was wide open for a 3 after Air Force double-teamed Harris on the low block, and Gonzaga led 61-49 with 5:37 remaining.
“This game my job was to spot up and the players found me,” Pangos said.
At one point, Air Force was shooting 61.5 percent and still trailed 45-42.
“They were efficient, tough and they knew their strategy,” Pangos said. “It was a tough win, but it was a good one.”
Gonzaga wrapped up a five-game, 13-day stretch with a 4-1 mark.
“This was a really hard stretch of games, going all the way back to Michigan State we’ve just been on it,” Few said. “Today we got their grades (for first semester) and it was the best I’ve seen around here for a group. They did a wonderful job, a couple on the President’s list, and then they stepped up and competed.”