Gonzaga is first mid-major to play for national title since Indiana State and Larry Bird accomplished the feat when they beat DePaul in 1979
Gonzaga started out hot in the first 2:02 of game action at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Jumpers by Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams, and Przemek Karnowski gave the Bulldogs an early 6-2 lead.
Duane Notice then scored 5 straight for South Carolina, with his three from the left wing which gave the Gamecocks a short-lived 7-6 lead at the 17:34 mark. A Zach Collins dunk off a nice feed from Karnowski gave the ‘Zags an 8-7 lead with 16:28 to go in the first half.
Notice definitely served up notice to the nation and the world with drilling his second trey at the 15:32 mark. Nearly 90 seconds later at the 13:57 mark, Silas Melson came off the bench and hit a three of his own. Gonzaga by this point was shooting 6 of 10 from the floor, the Gamecocks a paltry 4 of 11 for 36.4 percent.
Melson’s second trey at the 11:53 mark extended the Gonzaga lead, but after a Hassani Gravett steal, Gravett went coast-to-coast for a layup to trim the Bulldogs lead to 20-18 with 10:59 to go.
Karnowski’s layup at the 9:15 mark pushed the lead up to 22-18 in favor of Gonzaga. But Gonzaga was in foul trouble and put South Carolina in the single bonus with 8:53 remaining in the first half (six team fouls). The Gamecocks then went through a cold stretch missing six straight shots before P.J. Dozier came to the rescue with a spinning layup to make the score 24-21, again in favor of Gonzaga.
Sindarius Thornwell, nicknamed “Sin City” by Scott Hood of GamecockCentral.com on Twitter, felt 100% after taking antibiotics since he missed practice due to flu-like symptoms on Friday. His first points in the Final Four came from the free-throw line to tie the game at 26 with 6:25 left in the opening half.
Jordan Mathews the next time down the floor hit a three-pointer, then Goss converted on an layup–all in a 22 second span.
With less than five minutes left in the first half, Chris Silva of South Carolina attempted to go airborne for a dunk. Karnowski on his way down got poked a bit on his right eye and laid face first on the floor in pain. P.J. Dozier then fed Justin McKie to tie the game again at 31. But the bigger concern was about Karnowski’s health.
According to CBS Sports sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, his vision was slightly affected as he was seen headed back to the locker room. Gonzaga Head Coach Mark Few told Wolfson at halftime,
“Yeah, he got poked in the eye pretty good. They’re checking on it right now. Hopefully we can put a protective contact (lens) it or something.”
Prior to the injury, Karnowski was 4 of 7 shooting and had four rebounds. Gonzaga went on a 15-4 run in the last 5:13 of the first half to lead at halftime 45-36.
It was the most points that the Gamecocks gave up in the first half during this NCAA Tournament, with the previous high of 40 in the Sweet 16 round against Marquette.
However, the ‘Zags showed no urgency in the final 14 seconds of the half as a Silas Melson three came after the buzzer.
Gonzaga shot 19 of 33 for 57.6 percent, while South Carolina was 13 of 35 for 37.1%.
Three-point shooting was relatively even, Gonzaga going 5 of 9 while South Carolina was 5 of 6 from behind the arc. Goss had 12 to lead all scorers, while Justin McKie had 8 points off the Gamecocks bench, 5 short of his career high. Sadly, he would not score the rest of the way.
In the second half, South Carolina started out cold offensively hitting only 1 of 6 from the floor in the first four minutes. Goss nailed another three to extend Gonzaga’s lead to double digits at 52-41 with 16:47 to go. Karnowski committed his third foul with 14:49 to play.
Then the run began for South Carolina.
Duane Notice made a layup with 14:03 to go, then a Zach Collins layup ballooned Gonzaga’s lead to 54-43 with 13:30 to play.
Chris Silva then made a layup and 1 of 2 free throws with 10:39 to go. A few minutes later, P.J. Dozier made a jumper with 10:02 to play, Thornwell finally nailed a 3 with 9:37 left and Dozier made another jumper with 9:15 to go to trim Gonzaga’s lead to 65-61. Silva made a pair of free throws with 8:29 to go, then another Dozier jumper tied the game at 65 with 7:41 left in regulation.
Karnowski showed any ill effects from his eye injury and it pushed Gonzaga to a three point lead with under three minutes to go at 71-68. Sindarius Throwell made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line with 3.9 seconds to go, but Killian Tillie made both of his attempts from the charity stripe with 2.2 seconds left and the game ended with Gonzaga emerging unscathed with a hard-fought 77-73 national semifinal win.
Nigel Williams-Goss had the game of his life to date, scoring 23 points (9 of 16 shooting) to go along with five rebounds and six assists. Zach Collins had 14 off the bench, as Gonzaga’s bench outscored South Carolina by a 22-14 margin. Collins joined Danny Manning of Kansas in 1988 and Anthony Davis of Kentucky from 2012 as the only guys to have at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks in a national semifinal game. Karnowski had 13 and Mathews had 12 to lead a balanced attack again for the Bulldogs.
South Carolina’s miracle run came up a bit short and they were led in scoring by P.J. Dozier with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Sindarius Thornwell started slow, but finished his college career with 15 points to go along with five rebounds. Chris Silva had a matching double-double, 13 points and 13 boards.
Gonzaga cooled off a bit to still finish shooting 48.3 percent shooting and held the Gamecocks to 37.9 percent shooting for the game. Three-point shooting was the difference, as Gonzaga made 47.4 percent of their attempts from long distance, while South Carolina only made 35 percent with that longer background found in NFL stadiums. Another telling stat was that Gonzaga made 45 percent of their contested shots, while South Carolina was just over 30 percent of shots that had defenders rubbing leather all over that orange colored ball.
Gonzaga becomes the first true mid-major to play in the national championship game since tiny Indiana State located in Terre Haute, Indiana led by Larry Bird when they won their first 35 games of the season in 1978-79 with their last victory coming at the buzzer to dethrone DePaul, one of the favorites that year to win it all.
The Bulldogs will play for the title Monday night against the winner of the 3 seed from the Midwest in Oregon and the top seed from the South in North Carolina.
See you later on tonight with a recap from Game Two.