Just when one thinks the Gonzaga Bulldogs may have turned a corner, they run into another roadblock.
For the second straight game, the Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point deficit, only this time they weren’t able to finish the job, falling 62-58 to Memphis in the Ronald McDonald House Charities Classic viewed by 10,778 Saturday afternoon at the Arena.
Basketball is often a game of runs, but these teams went to the extremes. Gonzaga led by eight with 5:30 left in the first half. By halftime, Gonzaga trailed by two. Memphis ran off 13 straight points and led 47-34 seven minutes into the second half. Then it was Gonzaga’s turn, using a 15-4 spurt to take a 56-53 lead.
It didn’t last. Memphis (17-6) pulled even on Charles Carmouche’s 3-pointer from the corner – the Tigers’ first field goal in nearly 12 minutes. Antonio Barton gave Memphis a 60-58 lead with a 16-footer from the right elbow of the free-throw line. The shot was a bit off line and too strong, but the ball hit the flange and the backboard simultaneously, deadened and dropped in with 38 seconds left.
“The last shot was as good as you can guard it,” Bulldogs head coach Mark Few said. “That’s kind of the year we’re having so far.”
Gonzaga had a chance to tie or go ahead with a 3-pointer, but Elias Harris missed a midrange jumper and Robert Sacre had the ball knocked away after receiving an entry pass from Steven Gray. The Bulldogs were forced to foul and Barton hit two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to end the Tigers’ two-game losing streak.
The loss was another blow to Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament hopes. The Bulldogs (15-9) will probably have to win the WCC Tournament to extend their streak of NCAA appearances to 13.
“It’s definitely been an up-and-down season,” Gray said. “You think you’ve righted the ship and in a couple of possessions things can go awry.”
This game was symbolic of Gonzaga’s rollercoaster season. The Bulldogs rattled off nine straight wins earlier only to drop three WCC games in a row. Coming off an impressive comeback win at Portland on Thursday night, they didn’t bring the same passion less than two days later.
“Our approach was just bad,” Few said. “We just didn’t have much emotion, we didn’t have much energy. You have to play a game like this with emotion and energy and fire and we were trying to cycle through some guys to find that – and we shouldn’t need to do that.”
Barton’s shot took a fortunate bounce, but Gray acknowledged the game was “won and lost in so many other possessions. We had a couple of bad breaks but we just weren’t executing on offense.”
GU didn’t have much interior production until Sacre struck for six of his nine points in the closing minutes, and Harris, who finished with eight points, chipped in three in a 40-second span that trimmed Memphis’ lead to 53-52.
“We’ve been pretty physical and I think we got out-physicaled,” Few said. “Those two inside guys (Tarik Black and Will Coleman) posted us harder and went to the glass harder than we did, and that was the key to the game really.”
The Tigers’ bench, led by Barton’s 17 and Carmouche’s 13, contributed 44 of the team’s 62 points. Three starters were held scoreless.
“They took a three-point lead, but we kept our composure and stayed poised,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “We found a way to win. We hit some big shots, got some big stops and we did a good job on the glass.”
Gonzaga opened up a 23-15 lead after Kelly Olynyk’s 3-pointer. At that point, the Tigers were just 6 of 23 from the field, but they made 14 of their next 20 shots to open up a 13-point second-half lead. Then they went ice-cold against GU’s zone until Carmouche and Barton connected in the closing minutes.
“I thought (Demetri Goodson) was going to block it,” Barton said of his go-ahead basket, “so I tried to shoot it high.”
The Bulldogs made just 36 percent of their shots in each half. The team’s top three scorers (Gray, Harris and Sacre) combined to make 10 of 31 from the field.
“I need to do a better job of making this team execute,” said Few, whose team visits Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine next week. “We need to execute to get each other shots.”