Gonzaga has been mostly guard driven and a force offensively the first month of the season, but the Bulldogs supplemented that formula Saturday with Sam Dower Jr., Gerard Coleman, rebounding and tenacious defense.
Dower scored 22 points, Coleman added 21 and the 19th-ranked Bulldogs pulled away from New Mexico State for an 80-68 victory in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga (8-1), which visits West Virginia on Tuesday for its first road game of the season, has won four straight after losing to Dayton in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. NMSU (7-4) visits Arizona, likely No. 1 when the new poll comes out, on Wednesday.
GU trailed most of the first half but Coleman provided a spark with 10 points and Dower added eight as the Bulldogs used a 6-0 run late to take a 31-30 lead. Gonzaga had only two assists, made just 35 percent of its shots and posted its lowest scoring half of the season.
“They were sticking their bigs (7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar and 6-10 Tshilidzi Nephawe) in the paint and face-guarding (Kevin) Pangos and (Gary) Bell,” coach Mark Few said. “They were trying to make other guys have to make shots.”
Those other guys often ended up being Dower and Coleman. Dower scored GU’s first three baskets in the second half and then Pangos started heating up, hitting the Bulldogs’ first 3-pointer with 16:15 remaining to extend their lead to 41-33.
Pangos was a game-time decision after spraining his toe in practice a few days ago. He also collided with Bell in pursuit of a loose ball early in the second half. Bell left the game with a right hip injury and didn’t return.
“If you would have asked me Friday I don’t think I would have played,” said Pangos, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half and finished with a career-high nine rebounds. “Jen (Nyland, GU trainer) and some people in the community really helped me and got me feeling like I could play.”
The Aggies pulled within 43-39, one of those baskets coming after Coleman turned the ball over trying to dribble behind his back. When Coleman was way long on a 10-foot jumper, David Stockton was sent to the scorer’s table to check in for Coleman.
But there wasn’t a break in the action and Coleman quickly atoned by breaking free for a dunk on one of Pangos’ six assists.
“He tried to make a crazy play down here when he’s basically not being guarded,” Few said. “And then we threw ahead to him (for the dunk) and he’s kind of a guy that plays off momentum like that.”
Coleman scored another basket inside and then challenged Bhullar, somehow coaxing in a 6-foot shot to bump Gonzaga’s lead to 49-39. He added a free throw and then gathered the ball after being stripped in the lane, extending a possession that ended with Pangos burying a long 3.
Coleman cut down the lane and took a feed from Kyle Dranginis for another dunk and GU’s lead was 56-43 with 9:25 remaining.
“We weren’t shooting good shots (in the first half),” Dower said. “We shot 65 percent in the second half. Guys were being more aggressive and trying to get to the rim. Gerard has an uncanny ability to get to the rim and finish over guys.”
Gonzaga hammered the Aggies on the boards, 45-30. The Bulldogs grabbed 18 offensive boards, leading to 22 second-chance points and contributing to a 52-32 edge in paint points. Przemek Karnowski had nine boards.