WICHITA, Kan. – Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few gave junior guard Kevin Pangos a hug as the junior guard was leaving INTRUST Bank Arena to catch a flight home, weather permitting, for the holidays.
“We gotta get you healthy,” Few said as the two embraced.
A few seconds later, freshman Ryan Edwards exited the locker room. Few stopped the 7-foot-1 center and told him he might get an opportunity for more minutes, in reference to Sam Dower Jr.’s scary fall on his back that kept him out for the final 24 minutes Saturday.
The 21st-ranked Bulldogs were beaten on the court by Kansas State 72-62 in front of 13,224 mostly purple-clad fans, and they’re beat up in general heading into a much-needed holiday break.
Gonzaga (10-2) trailed from the outset, caught up with key contributions from reserves Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis, but were outplayed by the Wildcats (8-3) in the closing 90 seconds of the first half.
That scenario played out again in the second half as GU poked its head in front before Kansas State took over, this time starting with 9 minutes remaining. The Wildcats’ 15-2 run – Gonzaga made just one field goal in an 8-minute span, gave them a 66-54 lead with less than 1 minute remaining.
“I liked how we fought through adversity when we lost a very important guy to us,” Few said. “We took the lead there for a little bit in the second half but we just couldn’t get enough stops. We couldn’t make enough plays on offense to get over the hump.”
The big question is the health of Dower, Gonzaga’s second-leading scorer at 14.6 points per game. He elevated to attempt a dunk but was jostled off balance when D.J. Johnson contested the shot. Dower didn’t have time to brace himself and his lower back took the brunt of the fall. He hobbled to the bench and was later taken for X-rays. According to GU, the X-rays were negative.
“He was in a lot of pain at half,” Few said.
With Dower out and Przemek Karnowski struggling at the free-throw line (0 of 6), Gonzaga was reduced to a jump-shooting team in the second half with the exception of some fastbreak buckets and occasional dribble penetration.
Gonzaga made 48 percent of its shots, but needed a late run in the closing minute to reach a season-low 62 points.
Pangos, battling a toe injury, and Gary Bell Jr., GU’s third-leading scorer, were scoreless in the first half. Pangos, as he’s done a few times since the injury occurred earlier this month, warmed up in the closing 20 minutes, scoring 14 points. Bell never found the range, finishing 1 of 7 from the field.
“For sure,” said Bell, when asked if he had open looks, “I just didn’t make them.”
Barham and Dranginis combined for 14 points as Gonzaga trailed 29-24 at half. Pangos, Karnowski and Barham helped GU overcome an eight-point deficit and take one-point leads on three occasions in the second half.
Johnson’s three-point play gave KSU the lead for good, 54-52, and forward Thomas Gipson, who had a big second half with 12 points and four rebounds, converted three straight times inside and added a pair of free throws.
“I told them Gonzaga already had scored 30 points in the half and we needed to get some stops,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber told his team at the under 8-minute timeout. “It seemed like 4 or more minutes where they stayed at 54 and that’s where we extended our lead.”
Gipson and Marcus Foster each had 14 points for KSU, which made 19 of 25 free throws to GU’s 7 of 15. The Wildcats had 15 assists and just four turnovers. Kansas State hasn’t allowed an opponent to score more than 62 points in a six-game winning streak.
“Definitely with Sam out, we don’t have as many options out there,” Dranginis said. “But they did a good job of getting us out of rhythm, jamming outlets and pressuring the ball.”
Gonzaga was already thin on proven frontcourt players prior to Dower’s injury.
“He’s one of our big leaders and one of the best rebounders we have,” said Barham, who made 3 of 6 3-pointers. “After he went out, we all got together and said we needed to step it up for him. We didn’t do a good enough job of that.”