The margin of victory in Gonzaga’s 77-69 men’s basketball win over Eastern Washington on Friday night may have surprised some, but not Bulldogs head coach Mark Few.
Gonzaga trailed 65-64 after EWU’s Jeffrey Forbes hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 6:40 remaining, but the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs made 11 free throws down the stretch to hold off the Eagles in the season opener for both teams in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“It’s the first night out. We played a veteran team and we played a bunch of young guys, even some guys that had to play different roles,” Few said. “Our entire schedule is going to be like this. I wouldn’t get caught up in the rankings or the hype and all that. Literally our entire schedule is going to be full of games very much like this. Hopefully we can step up to the task like we did in the last five minutes.”
EWU gave Gonzaga everything it could handle as Collin Chiverton and Cliff Colimon repeatedly drilled 3-pointers. Before cooling off late, Chiverton stung Gonzaga for 25 points, including 6 of 12 3-pointers. Colimon had 15 points, draining 3 of 5 3s, in the first half, and finished with 17 points and eight assists before fouling out.
Five Eagles fouled out. Gonzaga was 36 of 51 from the free-throw line. The school record for free-throw attempts was 54 versus Davidson in the 2009 Battle in Seattle.
“I told our guys you’re either the hunter or the hunted, and we came into a tough atmosphere and we played like the hunter,” first-year EWU coach Jim Hayford said. “There was a time in the first half when we could have folded and we showed some great resolve and that’s something I can build on.”
Both teams struggled on offense early. Gonzaga missed 11 of its first 13 shots before heating up. Mike Hart capped a 7-0 run with a basket and three straight dunks – two by Elias Harris and one by Robert Sacre – bumped Gonzaga’s lead to 28-18.
Harris’ 3-pointer from the top of the key stretched the lead to 12, but the Eagles finished the half with four 3-pointers, two each by Colimon and Chiverton, in the final 3 minutes to close within 38-35 at half.
Gonzaga pulled out to a 47-40 lead early in the second half, but Chiverton’s 3-pointer triggered an EWU run that sent the Eagles in front 52-49.
Chiverton canned a 3-pointer with 7:35 left and Forbes’ added another 3 to give EWU its last lead, 65-64. Sacre’s two free throws gave GU the lead for good.
“People may underestimate them because they have the name ‘Eastern’ on their chest, but when they come out and play us it’s a big game,” said Sacre, who hit 14 of 18 foul shots and finished with 22 points. “We capitalized when we needed to.”
Marquise Carter made five late free throws and Sacre chipped in a pair of free throws and a basket in the lane as the Bulldogs went on a decisive 13-2 run to take a 77-67 lead.
“We’ve been hearing they’re a lot better team and they showed it,” said Carter, who added 17 points, 12 coming at the free-throw line. “The good thing about it is we buckled down at the end, got stops and finished it off.”
Chiverton, who spent a redshirt year at Saint Mary’s before playing at Salt Lake Community College as a freshman and City College of San Francisco last season, was on fire for the first 30 minutes. He cooled off, missing 10 of his last 11 shots, including his last seven.
“We had a lot of great guard penetration which allowed a lot of help from Gonzaga’s defenders,” Chiverton said. “That left a lot of open 3-pointers. We just executed our game plan and got a lot of good looks. We just needed to knock a few more of them down to get the ‘W.’ ”