KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Gonzaga Bulldogs came in with a three-game losing streak and fragile confidence. They fell behind by 15 points midway through the first half. They missed free throw after free throw.
They turned the ball over late in regulation with a chance to clinch a badly needed victory. Tennessee’s Tyler Smith hit a tough scoop shot in the closing seconds to force overtime. It set up to be a repeat of the Connecticut game a couple of weeks ago, when A.J. Price’s off-balance 3-pointer forced an overtime session that the Huskies dominated.
This time, it was Gonzaga’s turn. This time, it was the Bulldogs hitting the key shots and burying the clutch free throws – after going 8 for 19 in regulation – and it added up to an 89-79 men’s basketball victory Wednesday that ended the 15th-ranked Volunteers’ 37-game home-court winning streak in front of 22,326 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We were in a rough spot for the last couple weeks,” senior forward Josh Heytvelt said. “We’d lost four games that have been 1-minute games that could have gone either way. We showed that we wanted this game more than they did.”
They did it with a huge night from Matt Bouldin, who equaled his career-high with 26 points, a big second half and overtime from Austin Daye, steady play from Heytvelt (15 points, 12 boards) and Steven Gray (14 points, six assists), and an important contribution from seldom-used center Will Foster.
“A lot of our games have been like this and we haven’t finished them off,” head coach Mark Few said. “It was great to be able to do it. We had to dig even deeper to get it done in overtime.”
It didn’t look like it was going to happen early. Cameron Tatum pulled UT (9-4) out of a 6-0 deficit by draining four 3-pointers, the last staking the Vols to a 31-16 lead. But Gonzaga did some damage of its own from the 3-point line as Ira Brown, Heytvelt and Gray, who made his first start of the year in place of Micah Downs, all connected from long range.
Tennessee led 45-33 on Tatum’s 3 and Smith’s dunk at the outset of the second half. A few minutes later, Heytvelt picked up his third foul and Few summoned Foster, who blocked one shot, influenced several others and grabbed four rebounds.
“We weren’t rebounding too well at the beginning, so I went in and tried to give my team energy,” the 7-foot-5 Foster said.
While Foster was providing a spark, Bouldin burned the Vols with seven straight points before giving way to Daye, who hit a 3-pointer, a three-point play and a couple of jumpers that pushed Gonzaga in front 59-55.
The Bulldogs (9-4) appeared poised to push it into double digits, but they couldn’t keep Tennessee off the boards. Much like the first meeting, which Gonzaga won 83-74 in Orlando, Fla., despite being outrebounded 50-26, the Vols snagged 18 offensive rebounds en route to a 21-6 edge in second-chance points.
Eight of those points came in a flurry that saw Tennessee reclaim the lead at 67-66. Jeremy Pargo, who had a rugged first half with five turnovers, came up with a steal and layup. It was tied at 68 after J.P. Prince’s free throw before both teams hit the skids. GU had a couple of turnovers, missed three shots and the front end of a 1-and-1. The Vols missed seven straight shots.
Finally, Bouldin connected from 17 feet and Heytvelt added a bucket and free throw to give Gonzaga a 73-71 lead. But the Bulldogs butchered an inbounds play and Tennessee capitalized when Smith drove inside and made a tough 4-footer with 25 seconds left.
The Bulldogs quickly regrouped in overtime. Daye made 4 of 4 free throws (after going 1 of 4 in regulation) and Gray knocked down 5 of 6. Daye added a 3-pointer and Bouldin and Heytvelt had field goals as the Bulldogs sent thousands of orange-clad fans streaming for the exits in the last 80 seconds.
Daye said poise and confidence helped GU weather the 15-point first-half deficit and the messy conclusion to regulation.
“If I was a fan (at that point), I wouldn’t have given up, but I would have been like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ ” said Daye, who finished with 20 points.
Gonzaga limited Tennessee to 2-of-11 shooting, 0 of 6 on 3-pointers, in the extra session.
“One thing I wanted our guys to focus on is we have to get back to savoring competition, that’s what it’s about,” Few said. “I think Austin got back to competing and enjoying it and playing with fire and passion. I thought Bouldin was unbelievable. He carried us.”
GU 89, Tennessee 79 (OT)
Percentages: FG .525, FT .586. 3-Point Goals: 10-21, .476 (Daye 3-4, Gray 3-7, Bouldin 2-6, Brown 1-1, Heytvelt 1-2, Downs 0-1). Team Rebounds: 43. Blocked Shots: 3 (Daye 2, Foster). Turnovers: 16 (Pargo 5, Bouldin 3, Heytvelt 2, Daye, Gray, Goodson, Brown). Steals: 5 (Daye, Pargo, Gray, Goodson, Downs). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .363, FT .789. 3-Point Goals: 6-28, .214 (Tatum 5-10, Hopson 1-1, Smith 0-1, Chism 0-4, Maze 0-4, Woolridge 0-5, Tabb 0-1, Prince 0-2). Team Rebounds: 47. Blocked Shots: 3 (Chism 2, Smith). Turnovers: 11 (Smith 3, Tabb 2, Prince 2, Chism, Tatum, Woolridge, Negedu). Steals: 5 (Prince 2, Smith, Maze, Tabb). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Tennessee 40, Gonzaga 33. A–22,326.
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