PORTLAND – The airborne chest bumps and high-fives after the final horn were a pretty good indicator of just how big this comeback win was for the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
They nearly got run out of the building early by five Portland 3-pointers. They made up most of that deficit only to slip behind by seven in the second half. Facing an opponent that hadn’t lost on its home floor this season, the Bulldogs rallied behind reserves David Stockton and Marquise Carter, a rock-solid effort from Rob Sacre and clutch work late by Steven Gray to dig out a 67-64 win Thursday in front of a packed house of 4,852 at the Chiles Center.
Gonzaga (15-8, 5-3 WCC) has won 16 straight in the series. The Bulldogs also ended Portland’s 19-game home-court winning streak, which started after the Pilots lost to GU last season.
“That was huge on so many levels,” said Gray, who scored nine of his 15 points in the final 4 minutes. “It was our first road win in conference and just our second true road win of the season. We started off in that hole against a team that hadn’t lost at home. We knew it was big for how the rest of the season would go.”
Much of the heavy lifting was done with Gray and fellow starter Elias Harris on the bench. Head coach Mark Few, unhappy with Gonzaga’s pursuit of 50-50 balls in the first half, inserted Stockton, Sam Dower and Manny Arop into the starting lineup for the second half.
That unit, along with Carter, who came in for Gray at the 15:46 mark, helped bring the Zags back.
“There were a bunch of (loose) balls we didn’t get to, so we went with guys that had shown in the first half they were going to get the ball,” Few said. “That was what that game was about, it was fighting inside, doing a good job defending the 3-point line and then going and getting the ball.”
Stockton’s layup tied it at 39 and Carter gave GU the lead for good with a 3-pointer. The Bulldogs stretched their advantage to 51-41, but the Pilots cut the margin to 53-51 on Jared Stohl’s 3-pointer.
Sacre hit two free throws and Gray, shortly after re-entering the game, drained a long 3-pointer. Sacre swatted Nemanja Mitrovic’s 3-point attempt with 25 seconds left and Gray’s two free throws with 11.7 seconds remaining gave the Zags a 65-61 lead. Gray made two more free throws before the Pilots hit the last of their 11 3-pointers with less than a second remaining.
“Big-time gutsy effort,” Few said. “We showed some toughness, high amounts of character and we weathered another storm there at the end.”
Stockton scored a season-high 12 points to go with six assists and two steals. He buried a 3-pointer off a feed from Gray to put Gonzaga ahead 63-56 with 1:26 left.
“We just had to settle down and get good shots on our terms,” Stockton said. “That’s what we did. We made some good runs and it was good to come back from a deficit like that. The offense was going when we needed it to and so was the defense.”
Stockton didn’t leave the floor in the second half.
“I was a little tired,” he said. “I haven’t played that much since high school, but I’d do it again right now.”
Sacre, despite being double- and triple-teamed, delivered 17 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth career double-double. Carter chipped in seven points. Dower added four points, six rebounds and three assists.
Portland led 19-6 after its early 3-point barrage, but the Bulldogs did a better job tracking the Pilots’ perimeter threats the rest of the way. Portland connected on just 37 percent of its shots. Stohl and Mitrovic each had 16 points. Luke Sikma finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds.
“They hit a couple of 3s back-to-back early, but we just wanted to get a stop at a time,” Carter said. “We did that and we kept capitalizing and getting scores at the other end.”
Gonzaga made 49 percent of its shots, 59 percent in the final 20 minutes. Two of GU’s three 3-pointers came in the final four minutes.
The Bulldogs entertain Memphis in the Arena on Saturday.
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