That’s three straight for Gonzaga. Wins, of course, but also three tough, grind-it-out efforts.
The Bulldogs were pretty efficient on offense, better on the defensive end and it added up to a 71-55 men’s basketball victory over Butler in front of 6,000 Tuesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“It looks like it’s going to be this way,” said sophomore guard David Stockton, who banked in an 8-foot runner to start a 12-0 spurt late that finally subdued the visiting Bulldogs (5-7). “We’re playing a lot of good teams, a lot of solid teams that don’t give up so that’s what’s going to happen.”
Butler, the two-time NCAA Tournament runner-up, suffered through another chilly shooting night, making 37 percent. That’s a season-low for a Gonzaga opponent, but not much below Butler’s season average of 39 percent.
“It’s been a relatively tough shooting month,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We had our (defensive) lapses, our moments, but I thought our decision making and shot selection midway through each half really hurt us.”
Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos made three 3-pointers and finished with 19 points, sharing game-high honors with Elias Harris, who also made three 3s and grabbed nine rebounds. Gary Bell Jr. didn’t take a shot in the first half, but stayed patient and contributed nine points in the second. Sam Dower added nine points and seven boards and Stockton chipped in five points and five assists.
“I thought their guard play was so good,” Stevens said. “Those guards just controlled the game.”
Butler was led by sophomore forward Erik Fromm, who was 4 of 6 on 3-pointers and finished with 16 points in his first start of the season. Fromm had only scored 32 points in 10 previous games, but he connected on a 3 on Butler’s initial possession and surpassed his career high by six points.
However, outside of Fromm, Butler was just 2 of 19 beyond the arc and 18 of 54 from the field (33 percent). Butler converted 15 offensive rebounds into just 10 second-chance points.
“With all the sets they run, it’s an absolute nightmare,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of defending Butler. “And if they find something they like, then it’s coming at you and they’ve got your bigs doing things your point guards are used to doing. By and large, even when we missed assignments we got a hand up and contested shots and I think that made a big difference.”
Few added that the best thing was “we didn’t get frustrated.” The Bulldogs kept attacking inside-out, despite not always having successful results in the paint, and kept working at both ends against an opponent that “competes and never quits competing.”
Pangos scored eight points as Gonzaga expanded a 22-18 lead to 36-22 late in the first half. During that stretch he made a pair of 3s, including one with a crossover pull-up move that cleared space from defender Ronald Nored.
“It felt great knocking down a couple shots,” said Pangos, who was 3 of 18 in GU’s previous two games. “If we get the ball inside-outside that’s our strength because then they have to respect both and we can get the ball moving and the defense isn’t always set.”
The teams traded baskets much of the second half until Pangos’ 3 capped an 8-2 spurt that gave Gonzaga a 59-47 lead. Butler closed within 59-52 before GU pulled away.
“We got hurt a little bit on (their drives), but the biggest issue was offensive rebounds,” Few said. “We corrected that in the last 5 minutes when we made our run.”
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