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Zags rally past Gators in AdvoCare Invitational

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – Repeat after Gonzaga coach Mark Few: When the Zags take care of the ball, they’re pretty potent on offense.

See Friday’s second half against Florida.

When the Zags don’t take care of the ball, they struggle at the offensive end.

See Friday’s first half.

The 11th-ranked Zags carved up the Gators’ defense in the closing 20 minutes, erasing a five-point halftime deficit to earn a 77-72 victory Friday in the AdvoCare Invitational semifinals at the HP Field House.

Gonzaga put up 45 points in the second half and made nearly 61 percent of its shots. The Zags were in the 70-percent range for a portion of the half.

“We ended up shooting 60 percent against one of the better defensive teams in the country, not just numbers wise but eye-test-wise,” Few said. “That was an impressive job. There was some blood in the water and they were circling (in the first half), but we were able to put that aside and get back into attack mode.”

Gonzaga (5-0) will face No. 21 Iowa State (5-0), a 73-56 winner over Miami, in Sunday’s championship game at 10:30 a.m. Pacific.

GU trailed for the first 30-plus minutes, though it did pull even three times in the second half. Johnathan Williams dunked off a nice feed from Nigel Williams-Goss to tie it at 57. Silas Melson buried a 3-pointer to give GU its first lead, 60-57, with 8:42 remaining.

“We came into the locker room and had to give ourselves a little gut check,” Melson said, “because they were out-toughing us and outplaying us in the first half.”

Melson added a pull-up in the lane and a dagger 3 to bump Gonzaga’s lead to 68-59.

Florida (5-1) pulled within five, but Williams hit a jumper from the free-throw line. GU’s lead was down to four when Zach Collins grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked with 1:10 left.

Melson made two free throws with 22.9 seconds left and Jordan Mathews hit 1 of 2 to help GU reach the finish line.

“I’ve been on him and on him to do that (step up),” Few said of Melson, who had 10 of his 12 points in the second half. “He’s a more confident player this year. I don’t think we were shocked by that, obviously we’re all rooting or it after what he went through (shooting struggles) last year.

“He didn’t start off the game well. He was extremely tentative. Then he set his feet and played with some pride.”

Josh Perkins scored 18 points, 15 in the first half to keep Gonzaga within striking distance. Williams provided a much-needed inside presence with 16 points. Williams-Goss added 14 points and five rebounds.

Przemek Karnowski, Killian Tillie and Williams-Goss fouled out.

“We already knew before the game we were going to go through a lot of adversity,” Williams said. “Coach Few just said, ‘Stick together, don’t spread apart.’

“In the second half, we stayed together and played together.”

Gonzaga was probably fortunate to be down by five, 37-32, at half. The high-flying Gators had five dunks and blocked four shots.

Devin Robinson, a smooth 6-foot-8 forward, scored Florida’s first nine points. He finished the half with 13 points, including two dunks and two midrange jumpers where he simply soared above shorter defenders.

“I swear their heads were at the rim every dunk,” Melson said.

The margin could have been much wider, considering GU had 11 turnovers and committed 11 fouls. The Zags trailed by as many as 11, but Perkins hit a pair of 3-pointers late in the half.

“In the second half he was really a catalyst for getting us into offense where we could make some good things happen,” Few said.

Robinson finished with 18 points for Florida, which shot just 37 percent and made just 2 of 19 3-pointers.