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'We needed one of these': Forwards Graham Ike, Anton Watson help Gonzaga find way past San Francisco 77-72

Jan. 25—Close games haven't been kind to Gonzaga with a 1-4 record in outcomes decided by 10 points or less. San Francisco hasn't been much better at 2-3.

This one was trending toward a tight finish with neither team leading by more than six points through the first 35 minutes.

Just when it looked like Gonzaga had taken command with a 17-4 spurt, the Dons rallied in the closing minutes — which seemed to last forever thanks to Gonzaga's repeated trips to the foul line — to make it interesting in the final minute.

The Zags survived some shaky free-throw shooting to hold on for a 77-72 victory in front of a full house of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

"Those build character," Gonzaga point guard Ryan Nembhard said. "We needed one of these. We've had a lot of tough closes ones, it's good to get one of these under our belt so we know what it's like for the future."

Gonzaga (14-5, 5-1 West Coast Conference) needed big second-half performances out of Graham Ike and Anton Watson, clutch contributions from Ben Gregg and a solid 40-minute effort defensively to break a third-place tie in the standings with the Dons (15-6, 4-2).

Ike and Watson were sluggish in the opening half and both battled foul trouble. That led to Zags coach Mark Few having another halftime conversation with Ike, who responded with 19 of his 22 points in the second half.

"Graham's huge. Some games he just kind of casually gets into them or he's so unselfish he kind of defers," Few said. "He can't do that. We need him to be that guy that he was in second half, regardless of whatever the post coverages are.

"We've been on him and on him and on him about that. Maybe experiencing it now after getting off to a slow start and kind of flipping the switch and coming through we can firm up that behavior somehow because obviously we need him. When he's like that, we can be pretty good."

Said Ike: "He got on me a little bit and (Nembhard) got on me a little bit to light a fire under me and we got it going."

Watson was big in the second half with 13 of his 15 points.

Ike and Watson fueled a 6-0 run that broke a 48-48 tie. Gregg hit a 3-pointer, Watson made a floater and Ike added four points as the Zags stretched their lead to 65-52 with 2:44 left.

"That was a long 2 1/2 minutes," Ike said of final stretch.

Indeed, San Francisco's Marcus Williams scored 16 points, including two 3-pointers, in the final 2:13. Meanwhile, the Zags, who finished 22 of 34 on free throws, had issues at the line and watched their lead shrink.

USF pulled within three points three times in the final minute. Gregg and Ike each hit a pair of free throws and Nembhard and Watson both connected on one to seal the victory.

"I shoot about 50 to 100 free throws every day after practice," said Ike, who hit 10 of 11 at the foul line. "It's just reps and muscle memory, that's it."

Was it different with the pressure of the situation?

"Naw," Ike said. "It either busts pipes or makes diamonds."

All five GU starters scored in double figures. Nembhard had 13 points and six assists. Gregg chipped in 12 points and five boards. Nolan Hickman added three 3-pointers and 11 points.

The Zags' offense warmed up in the second half with 47 points on 58.3% shooting. The key was getting paint points from Ike and Watson and building a 19-8 advantage in points off turnovers. USF had 15 turnovers to Gonzaga's seven.

"We just had to keep trusting our offense," Nembhard said. "I felt like the post was working a lot with 'G' (Ike), so just trying to play off that."

San Francisco made just 39% of its shots.

"That's a heck of a team we beat," Few said. 'They've got a lot of toughness to them, (coach) Chris (Gerlufsen) has done a really good job of putting them all in the right places. That's a very good win for us."

Neither team had much success offensively in the opening half, but the Dons took a 31-30 lead on Ndewedo Newbury's putback just before the buzzer. USF's eight offensive boards created an 8-3 edge in second-chance points.