OKINAWA, Japan – The Gonzaga-Pittsburgh season-opening basketball game Friday lasted one half before officials called it off due to unsafe court conditions.
Players from both teams were slipping and sliding throughout the first half of the Armed Forces Classic, played on a portable court inside Foster Fieldhouse in Okinawa, Japan. The game, the centerpiece of ESPN’s annual tribute to America’s Heroes, was held at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Butler.
At one point, Pittsburgh’s James Robinson lost his footing and fell on the court, suffering a cut below his eye.
Pittsburgh led 37-35 at the break. Officials allowed the maintenance staff to work on the floor’s “oil-based finish” during halftime but said there was no noticeable improvement.
“Unfortunately, it’s just the conditions,” said Darron George, one of the three game officials, in an interview with ESPN. “On this floor, the players can’t stop, we can’t stop. It’s a terribly unsafe situation. It’s our discretion and being out here on this floor I can tell you it’s just too unsafe. So we made the decision to call the game with the input of the coaches and the tournament guys.”
Gonzaga practiced on the court earlier in the week and it was somewhat slippery, but conditions worsened with rains earlier Friday and 3,000 fans seated in portable bleachers. Game management crews used towels and brooms during breaks in the action to try to keep moisture off the court but it didn’t seem to help the players’ footing, particularly when they tried to make quick cuts.
“First of all we’re sorry, we wish we could have finished this game. It’s what we wanted to do,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told the crowd after the game was called off. “I just want you to know in this short time we’ve been here, the impact that you’ve had on myself, my staff and my players is something we’ll cherish for a lifetime.”
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon also addressed the crowd. “We’re disappointed we can’t continue to play but that’s the situation we’re at,” he said. “We came here obviously for the experience to play a great program in Gonzaga but really for an opportunity to be around the Marines. We can’t thank you enough for all you do and all the services you provide for us and our country.”
Players then went into the stands to greet Marines and their families. One Pittsburgh player handed his uniform to a young fan.
Prior to the game being called, the lead changed hands five times in the first half. Gonzaga’s offense sputtered early and a 4-minute scoring drought helped Pittsburgh build a 14-7 lead.
Senior forward Kyle Wiltjer scored GU’s first seven points. Domantas Sabonis, who missed most of Saturday’s exhibition win over Eastern Oregon after a hard fall on his lower back, chipped in a pair of baskets and the Zags reclaimed the lead 22-21 on Przemek Karnowski’s lone field goal.
Gonzaga stretched its advantage to 26-22 but the Panthers closed the half with a 7-3 spurt to take at 37-35 lead.
Wiltjer led all scorers with 15 points. Sabonis added eight points and five rebounds. Kyle Dranginis chipped in three points and four assists.
Michael Young paced the Panthers with 11 points and four boards. Pittsburgh made 11 of 14 free throws to Gonzaga’s 3 of 7. The Zags had a 16-8 edge in points in the paint.
Gonzaga returns home to face Northern Arizona on Wednesday.
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