NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mark Few wondered how his eighth-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs would handle a nine-day break for exams, traveling cross country and playing in front of a heavily orange crowd.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes saw enough Sunday to think Few and Gonzaga still might be undefeated when March rolls around.
Nigel Williams-Goss scored 20 points, and Gonzaga remained unbeaten by holding off Tennessee 86-76.
“I thought they did good, especially the way we started the first half,” Few said. “Usually when you come out of finals like this, you’re a little bit concerned about losing rhythm. We had some pretty good rhythm going into finals. Gave them several days off, I was a little bit worried about that. They responded.”
Gonzaga (11-0) hadn’t played since beating Akron on Dec. 10 and looked strong as it scored the first eight points and never trailed. The Bulldogs led 27-6 on a jumper by Zach Collins with 12:06 left, 43-29 at halftime and 64-48 midway through the second half.
Tennessee (6-5) went on a 10-3 run and got within 75-71 on a jumper by Robert Hubbs III with 2:26 left.
Josh Perkins then hit a jumper as Gonzaga held on for its fourth straight win in the five games between these teams.
“Obviously we weren’t perfect, but to come in here and beat a good Tennessee team by double digits, and pretty much control the entire game, I thought we did a good job,” Williams-Goss said. “But there’s room to grow.”
This was billed as the Battle of Broadway played at Bridgestone Arena, so technically it was a neutral court – except for all the fans wearing Tennessee orange in the seats. Those fans got very loud as the Vols made their run.
Barnes wasn’t happy with how the Vols started, and he’s tiring of coming close in losses.
“It’s one thing being talked about as being a scrappy team that fights all the time, but at some point in time we’ve got to want to be more than that,” he said. “We’ve got to want to play 40 minutes, and we haven’t done that at any point in time this year.”
Detrick Mostella led Tennessee with 17 points and Hubbs had 10.
The Vols played without 6-foot-7 freshman John Fulkerson, who missed his first game since dislocating his right elbow in Thursday night’s win over Lipscomb. Fulkerson is expected to miss six weeks with the injury.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs came in as one of six undefeated teams in the Top 25 and did nothing to hurt their stock after their break. … They improved to 12-8 all-time against Southeastern Conference teams and 2-0 this season. Gonzaga beat Florida last month. … With 7-1 center Karnowski and 6-9 Johnathan Williams, the Bulldogs outrebounded Tennessee 42-38.
Tennessee: This was the Vols’ fourth game in eight days, a stretch that started a week ago with a 73-71 loss in Chapel Hill to No. 7 North Carolina. … Barnes now is 0-5 against Gonzaga and 0-4 against Few. … Freshman Grant Williams scored 30 points in the Vols’ last game and finished with 11.
“I think he’s got as good a team as he’s ever had,” Barnes said of Few. “I think he’s going to become an even bigger story in college basketball because if you look ahead, he’s always done tremendous things with his team in the league and he could be the first time in a long time that you’ve got a team capable of being undefeated heading into postseason play.”
The officiating crew of Karl Hess, Jamie Luckie and Brent Hampton called 56 fouls combined. Gonzaga and Tennessee each had a player foul out with Silas Melson playing 18 minutes before his fifth foul for the Bulldogs, while Jordan Bowden had nine points in 27 minutes for the Vols. Gonzaga finished the game with four players having four fouls apiece.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs host South Dakota on Wednesday.
Tennessee: At East Tennessee State on Thursday night.