The USF Dons defeated the Gonzaga Bulldogs 81-77 in overtime on Saturday night at a jam packed War Memorial Gym. The hype and anxiety that filled the crowd throughout the game, bursted in an all-out celebration at mid-court after the final buzzer, imaging a small school that had just won a BCS Championship.
The game began with a packed and sold out looking gymnasium filled with a quarter of the lower level with Los Locos, half of the upper level with Gonzaga fans, and the rest filled with students and parents alike.
From tip off it seemed as if the Dons had been matched in their own team strategy of fast paced and quick passing. While the Zags kept pushing the tempo faster with fast breaks and turnovers, the Dons were forced to slow down their pace to recollect from the high intensity that the Zags were playing with. Within the first five minutes, the Dons appeared shaken defensively by example of inattentive or unset for the Gonzaga offense which brought the ball down court and made a play within the matter of three to four seconds.
The first half was filled with the Dons slowing down pace to attempt better shots, while the Zags tried to keep tempo up forcing bad shots and creating fast breaks. At half time the Dons managed to claw within range of 26-33.
The early part of the second half seemed a continuation of the end of the first half. However, with the Zags pushing tempo, the Dons managed to take advantage of a several mishaps for the Zags in forms of steal and loose ball turnovers. By the second half of the second half, the game had turned tables. After multiple mishaps and turnovers for the Zags, the Dons began to pursue pushing the tempo higher with full court presses, while the Zags tried to slow down the pace by resetting and passing the ball around the perimeter.
As the Dons fought and held within striking range the game became a nail biter with 1:19 left to play in regulation time with the Dons down 62-65. After a prolonged timeout, the Dons put the ball in play trying to break inside of the Gonzaga zone by passing around the perimeter and trying inside drives that were shut down only leading to kicking the ball back out to the perimeter and taking a good outside shot bringing the game closer at 64-65 with 36.8 seconds left.
After attaining the ball, the Zags were encountered with a full court press and an intentional foul by the Dons to regain ball control. The Zags made one of two free throws bringing the game to 67-64 with 25.3 seconds left in the game. The Dons called a crucial timeout trying to strategize a last second shot to tie the game.
When the Dons re-entered the court, they ran a play that had the Zags defense confused in their own man coverage, leaving Dior Lowhorn open at the three point line to shoot a game changing shot. Unfortunately for the Dons, Lowhorns shot missed. But off the tip of a Gonzaga player’s hand, another player threw the ball back into court saving the turnover. This pass went directly into Lowhorn’s hand for a second shot, which went in, tying the game 67-67 and taking the game into overtime.
From overtime the Dons must have been pumped, because the ensuing five overtime was dominated by the Dons who pushed tempo and took an early lead which the Zags could never come back from. With the final seconds of the game in suspense from timeouts and fouls from Gonzaga, the iced the game with a final free throw being made at 5.7 seconds. When the buzzer went off hundreds of students and fans ran for center court as possibly one of the biggest upset this season occurred in the West Coast Conference.