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Gonzaga beats St. John’s, wins NIT Season Tip-Off

Nov. 28, 2014 Updated Fri., Nov. 28, 2014 at 10:32 p.m.

NEW YORK – Gonzaga wasn’t kidding about this different-guy-every-night stuff. Domantas Sabonis, Gary Bell Jr., Byron Wesley and, of course, Kevin Pangos took center stage Friday, leading the Zags to a 73-66 victory over St. John’s in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship in front of 5,548 at Madison Square Garden. Pangos was named most outstanding player, and immediately went about trying to earn his 10th assist of the night. “It was an honor but the entire team, you could pick anyone,” said Pangos, who was credited with 11 points and nine assists. “First game (against Georgia, Kyle) Wiltjer played great. This game, Domantas, Gary, everyone made great plays.” The 10th-ranked Zags are 6-0 for the third time under coach Mark Few, the previous two in 2009 and 2013. St. John’s, one of the most athletic teams Gonzaga will encounter this season, dropped to 4-1. Wiltjer and Sabonis joined Pangos on the all-tournament team, but it just as easily could have been Wesley and Bell. Bell scored nine of his 13 points in a stretch where Gonzaga opened up a 48-37 lead early in the second half. The Zags kept adding on, bumping the margin to 56-41 with 9 minutes left before the Red Storm, much like Georgia, stitched together a comeback. St. John’s, essentially playing with five guards/wings after center Chris Obepka fouled out, used dribble penetration to create baskets or get to the free-throw line. The Red Storm pulled within 62-57, bringing a small but vocal home crowd to its feet. When it got dicey, the Zags turned to Wesley. It started with his drive and short bank shot with 5:06 left. “I had a tough first half,” said Wesley, in a virtual replay of his performance Wednesday. “But my teammates kept looking for me and had a lot of confidence in me down the stretch.” Wesley connected on a runner with 3:05 remaining, then drew a foul on another drive into the paint. GU led by just four when Wesley penetrated the lane for a layup with 1:18 left. “You saw how willing he was to take over and take big shots,” Few said, “which is something we haven’t had with smaller guards where you can get in the lane and make plays.” St. John’s, which entered the game shooting 23 percent on 3-pointers, made it interesting as Phil Greene made consecutive 3-pointers to cut GU’s lead to three. The Red Storm had two chances to tie or get closer. Kyle Dranginis, who entered as a defensive sub for Wiltjer to match up against St. John’s guards, stripped the ball from Rysheed Jordan for a turnover. After a GU turnover, Bell drew a charging foul on D’Angelo Harrison. Pangos and Wesley each hit a pair of free throws for the final margin. “We were challenged,” Few said. “We played experienced teams in Georgia and St. John’s that are hungry to get back to the (NCAA) tournament. We had to fight them on offense and we had to fight them on defense.” Sabonis enjoyed a bounce-back effort after fouling out Wednesday with just four points. He was in attack mode when he entered in the first few minutes. He fed Przemek Karnowski for an easy layup and gave Gonzaga the lead for good with a power move inside. Sabonis and Karnowski combined for 14 points as the Zags worked inside-out to lead 33-28 at the half. “I should have been smarter (against Georgia),” said Sabonis, who made 6 of 6 shots, scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “Part of our plan was to go inside because they only had one big guy.” As expected, Silas Melson made his Zags debut. The 6-foot-4 freshman from Portland, pressed into duty after Josh Perkins broke his jaw against Georgia, made his first shot, a 3-pointer. He finished with five points in 11 minutes. .
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