For the second time in three days, the Gonzaga Bulldogs nearly took a loss at the line.
The Zags figured that Thursday’s rough free-throw performance against UNC Greensboro, in which the Zags hit just 52 percent of their free throws (13 of 25), was just a fluke.
But in a 90-84 win over Ohio State on Saturday, Gonzaga found themselves once again fighting to stay in the NCAA Tournament from the free-throw line.
The Zags struggled at the line for most of the game, especially in the first half when they missed four of six attempts.
Midway through the second half, the Zags were even worse. They were 4 for 14 at the line with eight minutes left, with most of the misses coming from the bigs.
The Buckeyes took their first lead of the game after sophomore forward Rui Hachimura missed two of his free throws that could have put the Zags up by three points. Ohio State’s Kam Williams answered with a 3-pointer that gave the Buckeyes a 56-54 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the game.
Williams finished the night with the Zags’ worst shooting percentage at the line, hitting just one of his four attempts. After he was sent to the bench in the second half because of foul trouble, the Zags finally found started taking advantage of their free throws.
Guard Zach Norvell Jr. started an eight-minute stretch that saw 15 makes in 17 opportunities at the line. He hit both of his shots to pull within two points of the Buckeyes. Forward Killian Tillie followed with a 3-point play that gave the Zags the lead for good.
The Zags’ performance at the line became crucial in the final two minutes of the game, when they had a six-point lead. Almost all of Gonzaga’s scores in that last stretch were made at the line. Hachimura’s dunk with 3 seconds on the clock was the lone field goal since Norvell’s 3-pointer at 2:16.
The Zags were 12 for 14 in the final 2 minutes. They hit all of their final eight free-throw attempts. Hachimura and guard Silas Melson were the only two who missed a shot apiece in the last stretch.
“Free throws, you know, at the end you’ve got to make them to win games,” said Tillie, who went 3 for 3 at the line. “We just tried to stay calm. Rui made some good ones at the end, everybody made some good ones, so it was good.”
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