Just enough offense, more defense.
It’s been roughly six weeks since the Gonzaga Bulldogs had a game decided in the final minute, but they haven’t forgotten how to win a close one.
Kevin Pangos scored on a hard drive to the basket and the Bulldogs made three defensive stops in the final 2 minutes, 35 seconds to dig out a 59-56 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory over San Diego in front of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1 WCC), ranked No. 21 in the USA Today poll, scored just six points in the final 10-plus minutes, but it was enough to hold off the Toreros (11-10, 2-6).
“We haven’t had one of those in a while,” said senior forward Sam Dower Jr., who had his second consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “The last one was probably (an 80-76 road win) West Virginia. We showed our mental toughness and our ability to overcome adversity. We needed that win and we got it.”
They got it done the hard way. Neither team held a double-figures lead. The Toreros led 22-17 midway through the first half. They never led in the second half, but stayed on GU’s heels behind Johnny Dee’s 26 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
San Diego pulled even at 55 when Dennis Kramer maneuvered around Dower for a layup with 5:50 remaining. Dee’s last points came on three free throws with 6:34 left. His last shot attempt was a high-arcing 8-footer over 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski that bounced off the rim.
Down the stretch, the Toreros twice called timeouts to design plays for Dee but the Bulldogs prevented him from finding open space. Gary Bell Jr., returning from a six-game absence because of a broken right hand, guarded the elusive Dee in the closing minutes.
“Pretty much all I tried to do is chase him off the line, make him shoot a 2 (instead of a 3-pointer) and contest it by ‘Shem’ and Sam,” said Bell, who scored five points, including a key 3-pointer with 12:18 left that stretched GU’s lead to 47-42.
Point guard Christopher Anderson ended up taking San Diego’s last three shots, all 3s. He missed all three, including a lean-in, 20-footer that was well short with 3 seconds left. GU’s Kyle Dranginis secured the rebound before time expired.
Anderson, a 39-percent 3-point shooter, finished 0 of 4 on 3s and 1 of 9 overall.
“It wasn’t what we had put together,” Toreros coach Bill Grier said of the final play. “He (Anderson) broke it off but he’s such a competitive kid, I can’t fault him. He played his tail off against a heck of a guard in Pangos. He was kind of like glue on him.”
Gonzaga relied on Karnowski to endure a rough offensive stretch in the second half. The sophomore center scored four of Gonzaga’s five baskets in a 7-minute span, including a jump-hook that put the Zags in front 57-55 with 4:10 remaining.
“I tried to just get deep position,” said Karnowski, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds. “The guys trusted me and I delivered. We kind of let San Diego play at their pace, but all that matters is we got another win.”
Dranginis had another steady performance with 10 points, seven boards and four assists. Pangos finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Gonzaga only had five points from its bench. Gerard Coleman (flu) wasn’t available in the second half.
“There were stretches where we could have opened that up, but we (made) a couple of silly decisions, especially at the end of the first half,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We can’t do that. We’re making it too hard and it’s not that hard.”