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Gonzaga knocks off the Vols 86-76

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Gonzaga saw a big early lead vanish thanks to a lot of phantom fouls and an aggressive Tennessee team in the second half. But, the Zags still got the W to extend their undefeated start to 11-0.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga vs Tennessee Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs beat the Tennessee Volunteers 86-76 in a game that may not have been that close if not for a herculean effort by the men in black and white stripes.

Nigel Williams-Goss played a dominant game despite playing with foul trouble for most of the game (more on that later), leading all scorers with 20 points (7-12) to go along with 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals. Four other Bulldogs would also score in double figures (Perkins, Collins, Karnowski, Mathews) to highlight Gonzaga’s balanced attack. Tennessee guard Detrick Mostella led the Vols with 17 points, 15 of which came in the second half when he keyed the Volunteer offense to a near comeback.

Gonzaga raced out to a sizzling start and established a 21-point lead early in the first half with most of the damage inflicted by the backcourt and Zach Collins. Surprisingly, Gonzaga didn’t do much damage in the post—outside of Collins—despite enjoying a significant size advantage over the Vols. The three backcourt starters combined for 25 points in the first half (Williams-Goss 11, Perkins 8, Mathews 6).

Nigel Williams-Goss in particular wreaked havoc on both ends of the floor, disrupting Tennessee’s passing lanes and creating easy transition baskets on multiple occasions. For their part, the Vols seemed to come out a little flat and struggled to match up with Gonzaga’s versatile lineups.

Gonzaga’s defense continued its upward trend, holding Tennessee to 23.5% shooting from the field (8-34) in the first half. That figure represented Tennessee’s worst shooting percentage in a half this season, with the prior low being a 33% effort against Chattanooga in their season opener. However, in what is now more than just a trend, the Vols took advantage of the Bulldogs persistent woes on the glass to the tune of 11 offensive rebounds during the opening 20 minutes.

While the Vols struggled from the field for most of the first half, they were able to string together some positive possessions late in the opening period, and coupled with the referees seeing ghosts in Gonzaga jerseys fouling the Tennessee players throughout the first half most of the game, probably considered themselves fortunate to go into the break only down 14 points (43-29).

Silas Melson capped off the first half with a steal and dunk off a Volunteer inbounds-pass with 2 seconds left, and found himself back on the court to start the second half in place of Josh Perkins who was saddled with foul trouble. However, he would soon join the ranks of Zags in foul trouble as the second half devolved into a rhythm-less and whistle-full affair.

Gonzaga got whistled for 14 fouls in the first half, and just 9:26 into the second period, had already picked up an additional 10 fouls. Even announcer Tom Hart couldn’t completely ignore the problem, stating “Lots of curious whistles in this game. This is a veteran (referee) crew, but I’m sure they’ve had better days than today.” But, the referees had one last trick up their sleeves, hitting Mark Few with a technical foul for dissent after Few kindly pointed out that Nigel Williams-Goss was getting mugged by Tennessee’s defenders.

With nearly all of Gonzaga’s 8-man rotation in foul trouble, Tennessee took advantage and started to close the gap. The Vols started driving aggressively, and were rewarded with a lot of trips to the free throw line which has been a staple of their offensive approach throughout the season. After a quiet first half during which he only scored 2 points on 3 shot attempts, reserve guard Detrick Mostella found his shooting shoes, launching nine 3-point attempts and making three en route to 15 points in the second half.

At about the 9-minute mark of the game, a Mostella jumper cut Gonzaga’s lead to single digits for the first time since the opening minutes of the game. For the next four minutes, the two teams played a tight affair, with Tennessee cutting the deficit to 4 points.

Things were looking a little hairy for the Zags with Collins and Melson both fouled out and Williams- Goss, Perkins, and Johnathan Williams playing with 4 fouls. However, some big plays by Nigel Williams-Goss who is claiming the closer mantle for the team; and excellent free throw shooting by the Zags helped the Bulldogs close out the game and continue their undefeated start to the season.

Gonzaga will head home to Spokane to play South Dakota on Wednesday to close out the non-conference portion of the schedule.