The majority of the 12,621 in EnergySolutions Arena suddenly morphed into Southern University fans.
An entire nation watched with bated breath. Twitter almost combusted with the thought of the Jaguars pulling off the impossible. No top seed ever had lost to a No. 16 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
For more than a brief moment Thursday, it seemed as if Salt Lake City would witness history. Southern pulled within a single possession of Gonzaga in the final five minutes three times.
Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell wouldn’t let it happen.
In a 64-58 survival of the Jaguars, Gonzaga’s young backcourt made three gargantuan shots in those three possessions, enabling the Bulldogs to hold Southern at bay once and for all. There was the long 2-pointer from Pangos. Bell followed up with a 3 from the top of the key. Pangos one-upped him with a deep step-back jumper from the corner.
“To think they are only sophomores,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “They are only sophomores. They are both clutch. As a coach, you have no problems with the kinds of shots they take. Kevin’s a kid that’s in the gym 365 days a year, and it paid off tonight.”
The old adage of the Big Dance is to survive and advance. Gonzaga defined that against Southern. The Bulldogs usually have a huge advantage in the paint. Against the Jaguars, those big men saw eight of their shots blocked and struggled all night, with the notable exception of Kelly Olynyk.
Gonzaga usually holds a definitive advantage on the perimeter. Against Southern, Pangos and Bell found themselves with a big problem in Derick Beltran, who scored 21 points and made a few pro-type shots from the perimeter in an NBA arena.
As a result, the Jaguars became just the fifth No. 16 seed to play a top seed within single digits in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Beltran’s 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 46 seconds to play actually tied the game at 56-56. That’s when Bell curled off a screen and hit his jumper with little hesitation.
Beltran went to the basket, got fouled and pulled Southern within 59-58, but Pangos responded with his 3 from the corner the next time down. As it turned out, that was the biggest shot of the game. The Jaguars didn’t score again.
“This isn’t a good feeling at all,” Beltran said. “We came here to win a game, and we thought we were going to win this game. We’ve worked so hard for so long. We came up short, so this is a very bad feeling.”
Gonzaga led 34-31 at halftime. After struggling in the first 20 minutes, Olynyk woke up and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulldogs’ 7-footer was aggressive going to the basket and carried his team for large stretches in the second half.
Pangos finished with 16 points and five assists. Bell had 11 points, while David Stockton passed for seven assists.
Beltran was the only Southern player to score in double figures. Malcolm Miller entered the matchup averaging 16 points per game, but he went 3 of 12 from the field on his way to nine points.
P Gonzaga finishes the game on an 8-2 run.
• Kelly Olynyk leads the Bulldogs with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
• The Bulldogs will face Wichita State in Saturday’s third round.