MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos leaned back in his chair inside the locker room and said to nobody in particular, “We led that by 12, didn’t we?”
Yes, with 14:35 remaining. And by nine, with 5:15 left. And by four, inside the 3-minute mark.
But Gonzaga’s offense limped to the finish line and Memphis took advantage, scoring the last 10 points and 17 of the final 19 to pull out a 60-54 victory in front of a near-capacity crowd of 18,248 Saturday at the FedEx Forum.
The 24th-ranked Tigers (18-5) boosted their NCAA tournament resume while putting a dent in GU’s. The 23rd-ranked Bulldogs (21-4), in their first game against a ranked opponent and playing in the centerpiece of ESPN’s College GameDay, let one slip away.
“Big time,” Pangos said. “We blew a golden opportunity.”
The Zags made just 1 of their last 6 shots and committed three turnovers, one inconsequential in the closing seconds. Memphis locked up the inside tandem of Sam Dower (18 points) and Przemek Karnowski (12) after Dower’s putback of a missed free throw gave Gonzaga a 52-43 lead with 5:15 remaining.
With the interior taken away, the Bulldogs had several shaky possessions down the stretch. David Stockton lost control of the ball and Pangos was forced to take a rushed 3-pointer to beat the shot clock. Pangos misfired on a 3-pointer on a designed inbounds play. Dower made a mid-range bank shot but it came after the shot clock expired.
Pangos, Stockton and Gary Bell Jr. combined to make 4 of 17 shots.
“We didn’t execute and we didn’t do a good job of getting it to the right people,” coach Mark Few said. “They amped it up, fronted harder and climbed into our guys to make the entry passes harder. And we also need to do a better job of posting harder.”
The Bulldogs finished just 2 of 16 on 3-pointers.
“The plan was to not let them make any 3s,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “I kept saying, ‘I don’t care if the big guy (Karnowski) has 34 points, we are going to take the 3 out.”
The Tigers brought the crowd back into it with one of their whopping 20 offensive rebounds. The ball found Michael Dixon Jr., who nailed a 3-pointer and Gonzaga’s lead was down to six with 4:50 left.
“Guys that just went and got the ball and we didn’t,” Few said, “and we’re a better rebounding team than that. We’re usually pretty tough-minded, but we weren’t very tough-minded on the glass.”
Gonzaga picked up its seventh foul with 11:05 left and Memphis cashed in with 17 of its 38 second-half points coming at the free-throw line. The Tigers made eight free throws in the final 4:27. GU attempted six free throws in the second half.
Dixon scored on a transition layup with 1:10 left to give Memphis its first lead since 12-11. After a Gonzaga turnover, Dixon hit a pair of free throws to make it 57-54. Kyle Dranginis misfired on an open 3 from the corner and Chris Crawford’s two free throws bumped the Tigers’ lead to five.
“We just needed to make one play down the stretch to break their will a little bit,” Stockton said. “You get to that point and sometimes you play not to lose. I think that’s what happened a little bit.”
Gonzaga led 25-22 at half after recovering from a 6-minute, 40-second dry spell with a 12-0 run. Dower went to work in the lane and Gerard Coleman broke loose in transition. The duo combined for eight of the Bulldogs’ 11 first-half field goals and 18 of the team’s 25 points.
The Zags quickly stretched the lead to 10 on one of several high-low connections that Karnowski finished with a layup. GU weathered an 8-0 Tigers’ spurt and rebuilt a nine-point lead, but the Bulldogs didn’t have an answer for one last Memphis rally.
“We turned the ball over, we didn’t execute and they made plays at the end,” Bell said. “We were trying to get it inside because that was working pretty much the whole game, but we couldn’t execute when we needed it.”