PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Texas A&M didn’t make a field goal in the last 8:28, but it did make free throws.
Gonzaga struggled at the foul line, hitting just 4 of 11, and it paid the price.
The Aggies scored their last 10 points on free throws, including one by Danuel House with 1:05 remaining to account for the final point in a 62-61 victory Thursday at Imperial Arena in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
The 10th-ranked Zags (3-1) will meet the loser of the Connecticut-Syracuse game for third place Friday at 9:30 a.m. PST. No. 25 Texas A&M (6-0), which broke a string of 26 straight losses to top-10 opponents, will face the Connecticut-Syracuse winner in the championship game.
It came down to the closing minutes because Gonzaga failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities to create a bigger lead.
“I was proud of our guys, especially in the second half I thought we really toughened up,” coach Mark Few said. “We played great defensively and held them to six baskets (in the second half). We just missed a ton of free throws where could have extended that lead. And the way we were playing defense it probably would have been good enough to get us over the hump.”
“To their credit, they got to the line.”
Gonzaga had two possessions in the final minute. The first ended with redshirt freshman point guard Josh Perkins, who led GU’s second-half comeback from a seven-point deficit, losing control of his dribble for a turnover. The Aggies misfired at the other end and Gonzaga called timeout with 13 seconds left.
The inbounds pass came to Kyle Dranginis, who briefly broke free down the left side of the court but GU eventually pulled the ball out front. Sophomore guard Silas Melson had a decent look but his contested 18-foot jumper bounced off the rim as time expired.
“We had a play set up,” Few said. “They went into a soft three-quarter press, which is what we expected. Then we got stuck whether we should have run the play or just attacked. We need to attack there. I need to coach them better. We pulled it out and we didn’t need to pull it out.
“But we also got a good shot. That’s a makeable shot. I’m very comfortable with Silas taking that shot.”
Perkins had struggled in the tournament, fouling out in limited minutes Wednesday and going scoreless in the first half against the Aggies. He found his stride in the second half, pouring in 15 points, including a 3-pointer that triggered Gonzaga’s rally with 15:05 remaining.
Kyle Wiltjer added a 3-pointer and Perkins made 1 of 2 free throws to knot it at 46. Perkins buried another trey to put the Zags up 53-50 with 8:33 left. Alex Caruso’s layup provided Texas A&M’s last field goal but Perkins’ bank shot extended GU’s lead to 58-54.
House, who has a knack for delivering in the clutch, made four free throws to cut GU’s lead to 60-59. House then snatched an offensive rebound that led to Caruso’s two free throws and a one-point Aggies’ lead.
Przemek Karnowski made one of two foul shots to make it 61-61 before House’s tiebreaking free throw with 1:05 remaining.
“The rebound is the one I’m most proud of,” Aggies coach Billy Kennedy said. “I know he can make shots and he made free throws. That was a big possession.”
Texas A&M used a variety of tactics to neutralize Gonzaga’s trio of bigs, including a first-half zone that slowed the Zags’ offense. Wiltjer finished with 18 points, but committed four turnovers. Karnowski had 10 points and five boards. Domantas Sabonis never got untracked, fouling out with just two points and four points in 18 minutes.
“I thought our zone was good for us,” Kennedy said. “They made six 3s in the first half and finished with nine, but we wanted them to shoot 3s. They made them, more than we thought they would. We wanted control the interior defensively and I thought able to do that.”
Added forward Tonny Trocha-Morelos, who burned Gonzaga’s defensive lapses with four 3-pointers: “The big key was not letting them get the ball. If they got it, stay down and don’t give up an easy basket. We had the help of the wings (doubling down).”