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Gonzaga loses a marathon double OT slugfest to Florida 111-105

The Gators and Bulldogs teamed up for a Feast Week all-timer.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Ohio State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

A game for the ages broke out at the Moda Center as the Florida Gators survived a heavyweight slugfest to defeat the Gonzaga Bulldogs 111-105 in a scintillating double overtime game that befit the high profile event it was played in. The Gators will play #1 Duke on Sunday in the championship game of the Motion Bracket, with the Zags facing Texas earlier in the day.

Johnathan Williams led the way for the Zags with a career high 39 points to go with 12 rebounds, and all five of Gonzaga’s starters scored in double figures before running out of gas in the game’s final minutes. Silas Melson had a chance to send the Zags to the final at the end of the first overtime, but failed to convert a 3-point play with 1.8 seconds left.

After a quiet first half, Florida’s Jalen Hudson went wild, converting 8 of 12 3-point attempts (all after halftime) en route to 35 points. Chris Chiozza just missed out on a triple-double, finishing with 26 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds; and, Kevaughn Allen added 23 points in Florida’s three-headed attack. Senior guard Egor Koulechov who posted 26 points the night before against Stanford was held to 4 points.

Two scorching hot offenses entered the game, as Florida was fresh off setting a program record for made three-pointers in a half (13) against Stanford while the Zags hung 12 treys of their own against the Buckeyes. The first 20 minutes, however, featured a cagier affair than many expected.

Gonzaga threw the first punch, forcing the Gators into three turnovers and an 0-3 stretch from the three-point line to open the game while running out to a quick 11-4 lead. Florida eventually found its footing in the game, reeling off a 13-0 run over three minutes to take the lead as Gonzaga’s offense stumbled with Josh Perkins and Johnathan Williams on the bench. To counter, Mark Few went to the zone defense with which the Zags have found great success over the last two games and it effectively stifled Florida’s dribble drive offense as Gonzaga entered the break with a 36-29 lead.

The fast-paced up-and-down game many expected finally materialized in the second half as the Gators emerged from the break and quickly erased the deficit. Jalen Hudson made a flurry of 3s as the Bulldog defense consistently failed to cover him on the perimeter. The Zags struggled to match Florida from the arc, instead relying on the senior Williams to carry the load when the perimeter offense bogged down.

The Gators were the aggressors early in the second half, putting the Zags on their heels to get to the line and draw an early foul bonus. Gonzaga eventually found its equilibrium in the final 10 minutes of regulation, though in hindsight, that was only the opening stanza for a wild finish.

Trailing Florida 59-53, Melson grabbed a pair of gritty rebounds and set the tone on the defensive end while Perkins and Williams converted a pair of tough buckets. Tillie and Kispert capped off a vital 10-0 run with a pair of threes from the corner before Florida countered with a mini-run of its own.

Just when it looked like Gonzaga had regained control of the game, Florida’s Jalen Hudson pulled a highly dubious 4-point play out his back pocket to reel the Zags back in. From that point on, the game reached a heightened level of madness that is sure to make it one of the signature games of the 2017-18 season.

The teams exchanged big shot after big shot as the clock wound down to zero in regulation. After Kevaughn Allen tied the game at 78 on a layup with 30 seconds left in the game, the Zags got the ball back with a chance to win the game at the buzzer. That chance never materialized, unfortunately, as the final play of regulation failed to manufacture a legitimate shot to win the game.

Overtime is where the game really got turned on its head, as each team scored 17 points in the first 5-minute frame. Florida continued its 3-point onslaught apace, only to find Gonzaga generating its own magic despite losing Killian Tillie (fouled out with 4:10 left in the first OT).

The experienced trio of Williams, Perkins, and Melson scored all 17 of Gonzaga’s points in the first overtime, highlighted by a deep 3 from Perkins to tie the game at 91, and a great drive and finish from Melson with just under two seconds left that sent him to the line with the game there for the taking.

With 1.8 seconds on the clock and the game knotted at 95, the Zags had one of their best free throw shooters at the line in Melson with the game in his hands. It wasn’t meant to be for the Portland native, sadly, as he left the game winning free throw attempt short. But, before moving on to second overtime, the Zags got one more shot as Florida’s Egor Koulechov collected the rebound but immediately traveled as he failed to dribble before launching a full court-heave. Melson shook Chiozza on the subsequent inbound play and got off a clean look at the buzzer but the fallaway 3 didn’t fall.

With Perkins fouled out of the game for the entire duration of second OT, the Zags simply ran out of horses in the final five minutes. Hudson sank a pair of threes, sandwiched by a Chiozza trey of his own, in a quick 9-0 run that put the Gators ahead 106-99 and effectively sealed the victory.

Even though Gonzaga picked up an L in the loss column, the rest of the country was put on notice that this iteration of Zags should be considered one of the nation’s top teams moving forward, and one of the most entertaining teams in all of college basketball.