SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Coming off a rare loss at home, No. 20 Gonzaga barely avoided another defeat at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“We’re very lucky to get out of this with a win,” coach Mark Few said after the Bulldogs held off Montana 61-58 Tuesday night.
Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis each scored 16 points for Gonzaga, which recently lost at home to then-No. 19 Arizona 68-63.
Wiltjer made two free throws with 7.5 seconds left for the final points of the game. A 3-point attempt by Montana’s Brandon Gfeller bounced off the front rim as time expired.
“I think every one is going in as soon as it leaves my hand,” Gfeller said, “but that isn’t the way it worked out tonight.”
Sabonis had 10 rebounds and Wiltjer nine for the Bulldogs (6-2).
Josh Perkins scored 13 points for Gonzaga, including a free throw and a jumper in the final minute to erase Montana’s 58-56 lead.
Eric McClellan had 11 for Gonzaga.
Martin Breunig led Montana (3-4) with 20 points, 18 coming after halftime. Walter Wright added 14.
“I was just trying to be more aggressive (in the second half) . in the first half, we were not aggressive enough,” Breunig said.
Few said Breunig “is one of the best low-post players we’ll play this season.”
Both teams struggled to score consistently. Gonzaga shot 40 percent from the field and Montana hit just 36.1 percent. Turnovers also were a problem for both teams at times.
“It was the best defense we’ve played since I’ve been at Montana,” Grizzlies coach Travis DeCuire said.
Gonzaga trailed 11-9 before holding Montana without a point for six minutes during an 8-0 run.
The Bulldogs led 29-23 at the break and scored the opening basket of the second half. Montana took the lead with a 12-0 run, when Gonzaga missed seven shots and had four turnovers.
The Grizzlies then missed their next seven shots, and Gonzaga’s 8-0 run pushed the Bulldogs ahead 39-35.
Gfeller, who scored nine points, tied the game with a 3-pointer with 1:07 to go. Jack Lopez was fouled at the same time and sank two free throws to give Montana a 58-56 lead. In the final minute, Perkins sank one of two free throws before hitting a jumper prior to Wiltjer’s final free throws.
“To get rewarded with a `W’ when we feel we didn’t play very good is a good thing,” Few said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Montana. I think they’re going to have a great season.”
Montana: The Grizzlies and Bulldogs were Big Sky Conference rivals from 1963-64 through 1978-79, when Gonzaga left for the West Coast Conference. The teams had not met since Nov. 11, 2007. … Montana has lost the past 10 meetings.
Gonzaga: Senior center Przemek Karnowski was sidelined for the third consecutive game with back problems. Few labels Karnowski “our best rim protector (on defense).”
Gfeller grew up 60 miles south of Spokane in the small town of Colfax, Washington. The junior guard said Gonzaga showed no interest in him beyond “maybe a couple emails.”
RARE EMPTY SEATS
The Bulldogs announced the usual sellout crowd of 6,000, but perhaps 100 seats in Gonzaga’s notoriously rowdy student section were empty. Some students may have been focusing on next week’s final exams.
Montana visits Washington on Saturday.
Gonzaga hosts UCLA on Saturday.