By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS Associated Press
SPOKANE — Gonzaga had to come back from a late deficit to beat unheralded Eastern Washington 77-69 on Friday night, and Bulldogs coach Mark Few warned that might be a season-long pattern for his 23rd-ranked team.
“Our entire schedule is going to be like this,” Few said. “We cannot get caught up in the hype and the rankings.”
Instead, Gonzaga (1-0) needs to find ways to beat seasoned teams like Eastern Washington (0-1), Few said.
“Hopefully we can step up in the last 5 minutes and win some games,” Few said.
That’s what they did Friday.
Trailing 65-64 with 6:40 left, Gonzaga outscored the Eagles 13-4 the rest of the way, with 11 points coming at the free throw line.
Rob Sacre had 22 points, including six in the final push to victory, and 10 rebounds to lead the Bulldogs. Marquise Carter added 17 points and Elias Harris had 16 for Gonzaga, which shot just 37 percent. The Zags did make 36 of 51 free throws.
The loss spoiled the debut of Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford, and was the 24th straight loss for the Eagles in the series, dating to 1990. Collin Chiverton, a junior college transfer, led Eastern with 25 points, and the Eagles made 13 3-pointers to stay close.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win,” Hayford said. “We have to learn to play without fouling so much.”
Ahead by three points at halftime, Gonzaga rode five early points by Harris to a 47-39 lead.
Chiverton hit a 3-pointer and then all three free throws when he was fouled trying a 3 to pull Eastern within 47-45. Jordan Hickert’s 3-pointer lifted Eastern to a 49-48 lead with 14 minutes left.
The teams traded the lead several times before Kevin Pangos hit a 3-pointer for a 64-59 Gonzaga lead. But Eastern Washington came right back as Chiverton and Jeffrey Forbes hit 3-pointers for a 65-64 lead with 6:40 left.
Sacre and Carter started Gonzaga’s comeback by making two free throws each for a 68-65 lead.
Eastern was scoreless for 4 minutes as the Zags extended the lead to 73-65, all on free throws, with 2:12 left. The Bulldogs were not challenged again.
“I am absolutely pleased,” Few said. “This was our first night out, against a veteran team.”
Chiverton said the Eagles were not intimidated by Gonzaga.
“We can’t be intimidated by anybody,” Chiverton said. “We’re going to play a lot of good teams this year.”
Eastern also shot 37 percent from the field, but made 13 of 29 from 3-point range. The Eagles were outrebounded 50-29.
Both teams started slowly, and Chiverton’s 3-pointer lifted Eastern Washington to a 16-13 lead midway through the first half.
A steal and layup by Carter highlighted a 9-0 run that gave Gonzaga a 22-16 lead.
Consecutive alley-oop passes for dunks and a 3-pointer by Harris extended Gonzaga’s lead to 35-23.
But Eastern hit four 3-pointers in the final 2:48 of the half — two by Cliff Colimon and two by Chiverton — to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 38-35. Eastern hit 7 of 14 3-point shots in the first half.
This was the 400th game for Few, who is 317-83, all at the Spokane school. He has never won fewer than 20 games as head coach, including last year’s 25-10 campaign.
Eastern Washington, based 15 miles away in Cheney, is 7-53 all-time against Gonzaga. The Eagles, of the Big Sky Conference, finished 10-20 last season.