CINCINNATI - Gonzaga has quality nonconference men’s basketball wins over Washington State, Notre Dame, Oral Roberts, Arizona and Butler, but the Bulldogs’ 72-65 road victory over Xavier on Saturday was probably their biggest victory so far this season.
Sophomore forward Sam Dower’s first career double-double – 20 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes – sparked a 32-9 edge in bench points as the Bulldogs (11-2) won their sixth straight, this one in front of a capacity crowd of 10,250 at the Cintas Center.
Kevin Pangos made a key 3-pointer with 2:30 left and finished with 13 points and seven assists. Elias Harris added 12 points and six rebounds, the latter a statistic that Gonzaga dominated 44-31.
Xavier (9-4), the five-time defending Atlantic 10 Conference champions, suffered its fourth loss in five games. The Musketeers, playing with a complete roster for the first time since a game-ending brawl against Cincinnati three weeks ago, haven’t been able to regain the form they showed during an 8-0 start that led to a No. 8 ranking.
“That’s just a heck of a win for us,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That team had not lost when they’re complete like that. It was hard fought, it wasn’t perfect, but we were tough. We played tough tonight.”
GU used 14 offensive rebounds to build a 17-10 advantage in second-chance points.
“We did a phenomenal job on the glass,” Few said.
The Bulldogs led most of the game but never by more than eight points. David Stockton hit a pair of 3-pointers to hike Gonzaga’s lead to 29-22. Pangos’ short bank shot just before the buzzer gave GU a 35-31 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs were in front 40-33 after Gary Bell Jr.’s three-point play, but Xavier rallied to take a 41-40 lead. Dower went to work, hitting a 15-foot jumper to give Gonzaga the lead for good. He struck for 12 points in a span of 4 minutes and 15 seconds as Gonzaga led 54-47.
“In warm-ups all my shots were falling,” Dower said. “That carried over to the game. I was using what the defense gave me.”
“He can be (a go-to guy),” Few said. “He was like that at times for us last year. When he gets going like that we try to call his number and guys did a good job finding him.”
Xavier was within 63-59 before Pangos buried a 3 with the time dwindling on the shot clock. Dower made two free throws and Pangos hit 4 of 6 in the final 40 seconds.
Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, considered one of the top backcourt tandems in the nation, combined for 30 points, but they made just 12 of 29 field-goal attempts, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range. They combined for six steals, but Holloway committed five turnovers and the pair had just three assists. Bell Jr. was the primary defender on Holloway, an All-American last season.
“We were really concerned with Tu getting into the lane,” Few said, “so we tried to load up the lane and close out the best we could on 3s.”
Gonzaga entertains Pepperdine on Thursday and Santa Clara on Saturday.