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Close Gonzaga game causes high anxiety for fans in Spokane

UPDATED: Thu., March 15, 2018

That red beer turned bitter, indeed, near the end of the game Thursday as Cinderella pulled off her glass slipper and threw it at the Gonzaga basketball fans watching the game in Spokane. They ducked when the Bulldogs’ Zach Norvell Jr. hit a late 3-pointer.

Gonzaga finally iced the game when Norvell hit his second free throw for the 68-64 win over the University of North Carolina, Greensboro in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Boise. The early lunches instantly transitioned from chewing fingernails to warm smiles and hugs.

“We always have trouble in the first round,” said Steve Vesneske, his empty glass still wet with the red tinge of tomato juice. “Well, you know, nothing ever comes easy in Spokane.”

The 10:30 a.m. tipoff on a workday led to a slow stream of fans dressed in everything from business suits to Carhartt coveralls as they converged upon 24 Taps Burgers and Brews in downtown Spokane.

The water glasses were quickly filled with stronger stuff as Gonzaga players missed shot after shot to start the game.

“YEAH,” a man dressed in Gonzaga garb yelled as GU’s Corey Kispert nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game at 8-8. But the Spartans took a brief lead before Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins lifted an alley-oop pass to Johnathan Williams, who slammed the dunk home to give the Bulldogs a 17-13 lead. “Yeah. Finally.”

Despite several misses and defensive breakdowns, Gonzaga pushed to a 32-23 lead at halftime. The fans smiled, spoke of Gonzaga’s past wins and felt OK with the state of things.

The score met the approval of Keith Hodgson, Cindy Chaffee, Gai Daily and Rick Daily. The group has been friends for decades and Gonzaga fans for just as long.

Hodgson, of Medical Lake, said the early start wasn’t a problem for him. “I’m always up early.”

“He’s retired,” Gai Daily responded. “He has nothing but time on his hands.”

Davis noted that her glass was already empty. “We Ubered down here,” she said with a smile. “I’ve already had my breakfast. I’m pacing myself.”

Over in the main room, Vesneske had his laptop computer out and technically was “working” during timeouts.

“No, you cannot know where I’m working,” he quipped. “I did quite a bit before the game. But now my lunch is about to get extended,” he said as he held up a red beer.

“It sucks being a Gonzaga fan,” Vesneske continued. “You have to get up at 5 a.m. to start work so you can get here.”

But the jovial conversations turned into consternation in the second half as the Spartans made several runs and eventually took a 64-62 lead when UNCG’s Jordy Kuiper tipped a ball at the rim and it went in with 1:46 left in the game. “Ohhhhhhh noooooo,” someone yelled out.

One fan chewed on his fingernails, while another clasped his hand behind his head and leaned back in a gesture of helplessness.

Then Norvell stepped back and hit the 3-pointer with just more than 20 seconds to play.

Seemingly everyone yelled at once as they jumped up and down underneath the bank of televisions.

Silas Melson, Rui Hachimura and Norvell caused another round of high blood pressure as they missed four consecutive free throws. But Norvell hit his second to give Gonzaga its final margin of victory.

The crowd nestled back into their seats and a sense of calm returned to the chaotic scene.

“Now we can relax a little bit,” Gai Daily said.

“Wow, it seems like they’ve got to start out like that every year,” Rick Daily added.

The friends liked the game much better when Gonzaga had the 12-point lead early in the second half.

“They let the team back in when they should have blown them out,” Hodgson said. “But as long as they win. They’ve got that one under their belt, but they better play better on Saturday.”

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