LOS ANGELES – Gonzaga has had numerous close games this season, but this was the first that came down to high-pressure possession after high-pressure possession in the closing minutes.
The Bulldogs weren’t perfect down the stretch, but they relied on Kevin Pangos’ accurate free-throw shooting, his deft pass to Elias Harris for a key layup and a new coaching wrinkle from Mark Few to hold off Loyola Marymount 62-58 in front of 3,942 Saturday at Gersten Pavilion.
The bounce-back win gave the Bulldogs (14-3, 4-1 WCC) a split on their road trip and kept them tied for second with BYU in the standings. LMU (10-8, 3-2) has won three conference road games, but is 0-2 at home.
“If they would have won, they would have been in second and we would have been in fourth,” said Gonzaga freshman guard Gary Bell Jr., who had perhaps his finest all-around game with a season-high 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. “That’s a big win.”
A bounce-back win requires bounce-back individual efforts. Senior center Robert Sacre, ineffective in Thursday’s blowout loss to Saint Mary’s, battled foul trouble but chipped in eight points, six rebounds and two blocks. Bell, one of several Zags unable to slow Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary’s, carried GU’s offense at times and was outstanding on defense, helping hold LMU’s Anthony Ireland and Drew Viney to well less than their season averages.
Pangos was limited to one 3-pointer in the first 35 minutes, but he made 6 of 6 at the free-throw line in the last five minutes and fed Harris for a reverse layup that gave GU a 60-57 lead with 8 seconds left.
During a timeout with 6 seconds left, Few opted to foul to prevent LMU from attempting a potential tying 3-pointer. Bell fouled Ireland with 3.5 seconds left.
“I don’t know if it’s a philosophy I’ll go with, but the time factored into it, the fact they caught the ball in the backcourt and the fact that I trust Gary a lot to execute that,” Few said. “I talked the staff into it, believe it or not.”
Ireland made the first and missed the second. Pangos grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He made both free throws to seal the victory.
“The coaches tell me to go get the ball and I have confidence at the line,” Pangos said. “Those are the moments you really enjoy.”
Of his drive and dish to Harris, Pangos said, “I saw his (defender) cheating up and I was hoping (Harris) was going to cut. If he didn’t I was in trouble, but he made a good read cut and a strong finish.”
Harris did that often, finishing with 19 points.
“The things I talked about after Thursday’s game, the lack of competing, the lack of energy and talking on the court, all those changed drastically,” Harris said. “We played our tails off. When we do that, we’re a really good team. If we don’t, a lot of teams can beat us.”
Gonzaga led by five early, but went through an offensive dry spell that lasted nearly six minutes. Bell took over, scoring eight points to help GU pull within 34-32 at half. The surge continued into the second half as Gonzaga used a 15-2 run to take a 47-36 lead.
Bell hit a jumper, fed Mike Hart for a layup and took two charging fouls. Mathis Keita, who has seen limited minutes this season, chipped in a field goal and a lob pass to Harris for a dunk.
LMU had six turnovers and missed its first five shots as Gonzaga expanded its lead.
“We weren’t scoring and it bled into our defense a little bit,” Lions coach Max Good said.
LMU rallied and had a chance to take the lead, but Viney missed a midrange jumper with 45 seconds left. Viney, who averages 16.6 points, made 2 of 10 shots and finished with six points. Ireland had 11 points and five assists but committed seven turnovers.
“I just tried to stay in front of (Ireland) and the guys stayed in the gaps and helped whenever he beat me. Somebody was there to steal it or block his shot,” said Bell, who also took some turns guarding Viney. “It wasn’t just me.”
The Bulldogs return home to face San Francisco and San Diego next week.