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Free-throw woes nearly come back to haunt Gonzaga in NCAA Tournament opener

Gonzaga guards Josh Perkins, front, and Silas Melson launch shots during Wednesday’s practice at Taco Bell Arena in Boise. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guards Josh Perkins, front, and Silas Melson launch shots during Wednesday’s practice at Taco Bell Arena in Boise. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga’s 68-64 win over UNC Greensboro on Thursday nearly came down to the free-throw line.

The Bulldogs finished 13 for 25 on free throws. Most of the damage was done by the bigs, particularly Johnathan Williams, who hit just 3 of 9 free throws.

“Pretty soon the averages are going to play out and we’re going to be shooting the ball well again,” GU’s Corey Kispert said about the team’s performance from the line. “I’m sure we’ll shoot the ball well again coming up soon. It’s just a numbers thing, really.”

The numbers matter when it gets down to the wire and the Zags are in dire need of a bit more cushion than a three-point lead.

The Zags struggled from areas all over the court, not just at the line. UNCG doubled up inside and gave Williams and the rest of the bigs some trouble on layups. Williams finally broke inside and gathered a handful of fouls at the rim.

His inaccuracy at the line on didn’t become too noticeable until the final seconds, when the rest of the Zags started to follow suit.

With just more than a minute left, Silas Melson was fouled and sent to the line for the first time for a 1-and-1 when the Zags were down 64-62. He missed, giving the Spartans an opportunity to boost their lead.

A UNCG turnover and two clutch shots by guards Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. gave the Zags a three-point lead with 20 seconds left.

UNCG’s next attempt at a 3-pointer was stifled when guard Francis Alonso got called for shoving Melson. The Spartans were forced to send the Zags to the line and they sought to first foul the bigst, who were 5 for 11 on free throws.

They found Rui Hachimura, who was struggling from the field (1 for 6), but was 2 for 2 on free throws. He needed one shot to put Gonzaga fans at ease, but he missed both.

UNCG had another chance and went for another 3-pointer. Forward Marvin Smith Jr., 0 for 6 from outside to that point, tried to tie the score at 67 with a 3-pointer but missed.

With 8 seconds left, the Spartans fouled Norvell, not an ideal choice since he hadn’t missed any of his six attempts.

Norvell kept UNCG’s hopes alive when he continued Gonzaga’s streak at the line with another missed shot, but he made his second attempt to sealed the win.

“Those are shots we usually make, so I’m just going to leave it at that,” Perkins said. “We missed them today, but they’ll go in when we need them next time.”


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