SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – It came with the thrilling finish most expected from these teams two years ago, but heartbreak was still the emotion awaiting Gonzaga at the final buzzer.
The Bulldogs weren’t in control for much of Friday’s game against Baylor, but they were in good shape – up seven points – with 1 minute, 41 seconds remaining at the Peacock Classic at Sanford Pentagon.
Malachi Smith’s open-court dunk opened a three-possession Gonzaga lead, but in a game of momentum swings, Baylor was on the end of the one that ultimately mattered.
The Bears got two timely 3-pointers from Adam Flagler, made a few key defensive stops, fouled out All-American forward Drew Timme and emerged with a 64-63 victory in a rematch of the teams that played in the 2021 national championship game.
Gonzaga (5-3) has lost three of eight games to open a season for the first time since the 2010-11 Bulldogs started 4-4. Baylor (6-2) avenged a 96-70 loss to unranked Marquette earlier in the week.
“They hit two big 3s,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We did a great job all day on Flagler. One was really, really a tough shot and we just didn’t quite hit our screen and coverage on the other one. They got a good look and again we took two balls downhill and tried to make plays at the rim. At that point of the game, those were tough.”
A sequence of plays the Bulldogs won’t look forward to reviewing in film sessions began with Flagler’s 3-pointer to cut it to 63-59.
The Baylor point guard, who’s averaged nearly four 3s per game, hadn’t connected from beyond the arc in Friday’s game but found the most opportune time to get hot.
Gonzaga point guard Nolan Hickman blew a layup on the Bulldogs’ next possession and Baylor fed Flagler for his second 3-ball, making it a one-point game.
After a Gonzaga turnover, the ball found Flagler’s hands again, but his shot bounced off the rim and fell to a scrum of players that included Baylor’s Jalen Bridges and Timme.
Bridges secured it and officials whistled Timme for a foul after reviewing the play at the scorer’s table. Timme’s fifth foul sent him to the bench for good with 16 seconds remaining. Timme was held to nine points on a night when he didn’t convert a field goal until there were 6 minutes remaining in the second half.
Bridges made both free throws to give the Bears a 64-63 lead – their first advantage since leading 56-55 with 6:16 to play.
“They made two free throws. That was big,” Few said. “I’ll have to go back and look at the block-out foul. It looked like it was just kind of a scrum down there. I don’t know what happened.”
Gonzaga coughed up the ball with 6 seconds remaining, but the Bulldogs were gifted another opportunity when Baylor turned it over on the ensuing inbounds play. With 4 seconds left, Rasir Bolton caught an inbound pass from Hickman, raced to the hoop and missed a layup off the side of the glass as the buzzer sounded.
“The last one’s on me,” Few said. “We tried to run a special play to get a little penetration on the shot because they were switching all our 3s and we just couldn’t complete the first pass to get into it. Very disappointing and they made plays, man.”
A game most expected to evolve into a scoring fest between KenPom’s leaders in adjusted offense was mostly a defensive struggle. Gonzaga made just 22 of 61 shots from the field, including 6 of 22 from the 3-point line, and connected on 13 of 21 from the free-throw line while committing 18 turnovers. Baylor’s offensive numbers weren’t much better. The Bears finished 23 of 62 from the field, 6 of 24 from the 3-point line and had 14 turnovers.
“I think that’s the rule of sports, right? You get two offenses and it’s supposed to be a high-scoring game and it ends up being a defensive fest,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I think coach Few probably realized for his program that’s their weakness, or an area they need to improve, because they are No. 1 offensively. They’re elite there. Same as us. Both of our defenses haven’t been as good as our offenses and for us to do what we normally do, that has to improve and tonight both of us took a big step forward.”
On a night when Timme was held to single digits, Anton Watson stepped up and scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting while grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds. Malachi Smith led the Zags with 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting, but Hickman, Rasir Bolton and Julian Strawther were limited to a combined 18 points on 6-of-30 shooting from the field.
Baylor freshman Keyonte George scored a game-high 18 points, connecting on a few deep 3-pointers in the first half.
Flagler recovered from his slow start to score 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
“Those shots were in the flow,” George said. “I trust my work and I was trying to get to the goal at times, and it freed up my shot and I was able to knock them down.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Follow along with the Zags
Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.