Marquise Carter connected on his first shot 3 minutes into the game and had a feeling it might be a special night.
“I usually don’t score that early,” Carter said. “When I hit that, I knew something good was happening. I kept trying to be aggressive and things kept falling for me.”
Carter scored a career-high 20 points and handed out five assists to help lift Gonzaga past Santa Clara 85-76 in front of a packed house of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Gonzaga (18-9, 8-3 WCC) remained in a second-place tie with San Francisco, which defeated Portland 82-73. The Dons visit GU on Saturday.
Carter has logged career-high minutes in each of Gonzaga’s last three games. He played 32 minutes against Loyola Marymount, 37 versus Pepperdine and 38 against the Broncos.
“He had an excellent all-around game,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “He played at his pace and, with the exception of one or two things in the first half, he really played with poise.”
Carter wasn’t alone. David Stockton finished with eight points and four assists while delivering a trio of momentum-altering plays in a late Gonzaga run that decided this physical contest. Elias Harris bounced back from a four-turnover, scoreless first half to finish with 10 points and seven rebounds. Demetri Goodson scored seven points and helped the Zags finally get a defensive handle on Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster, who made 5 of 5 3-pointers and scored 18 first-half points.
Robert Sacre scored eight points and had five of Gonzaga’s nine blocked shots. Steven Gray, who sat out 10 minutes after picking up his fourth foul with 11:28 remaining, chipped in 14 points.
Gonzaga was on top 30-15 midway through the first half, but Foster, who had 36 points in Santa Clara’s win over GU last month, struck for three 3-pointers in 21 seconds. On one of those 3s, he was fouled by Gray and he converted the free throw.
The Brooncos’ run continued as they briefly took the lead, 35-32. Kelly Olynyk’s 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a 41-38 lead and they settled for a 43-41 edge at half.
Gonzaga opened the second half with a 12-3 burst, capped by Harris’s dunk at the 16:03 mark. Foster made a pair of 3s and Marc Trasolini added a 3 as the Broncos closed within 63-61.
But Stockton answered with a jumper from just inside the 3-point line with time running out on the shot clock and then the redshirt freshman guard intercepted a pass. While falling to the court, he dished the ball to Carter, who converted from 5 feet, a sequence that triggered a standing ovation from the crowd. Carter hit a floater in the lane and Stockton blocked Foster’s 3-point attempt from behind, scooped up the ball and drove for a layup.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Stockton said of his 18-foot jump shot that started GU’s surge. “At that point, I was thinking, ‘Just get a shot up.’”
Gonzaga led 72-61 and, despite some shaky free-throw shooting late, held off the Broncos (16-12, 6-5) for its fifth straight conference win.
“My teammates and I hate being in close games at the end because we haven’t had good luck in games like that,” Carter said. “We just wanted to open it up and that’s what we did.”
The Zags had Carter, Stockton and Goodson on the floor for the majority of the last 11 minutes. Goodson guarded Foster, who finished with 27 points but made just 3 of 16 second-half shots.
“It felt like Foster was going to do it to us again,” Sacre said, “but Meech did a good job of holding him down.”
Much like the first meeting at Santa Clara, there was no shortage of fouls called (51 combined) and free throws attempted (59 combined). Gonzaga made 54 percent of its shots to Santa Clara’s 33, but the Broncos grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, leading to 19 second-chance points.
“It was a high-intensity game,” Few said. “That’s what it’s like in late February in league, nothing comes easy.”