UNCG comes up short in NCAA tourney upset bid against Gonzaga

The Spartans led in the final minute before the defending national runnerup Bulldogs rallied to take a 68-64 victory

UNCG forward Jordy Kuiper reacts after his team's close loss to Gonzaga in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday (Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

BOISE, Idaho — Gonzaga senior forward Johnathan Williams had 19 points and 13 rebounds and freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. scored 15 points, including a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 20.8 seconds left, as the No. 4 seed Bulldogs escaped with a 68-64 victory over UNC Greensboro in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional at the Taco Bell Arena on Thursday.

Junior guard Josh Perkins had 16 points and the Bulldogs (31-4) extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 15 games despite shooting just 42.4 percent from the field and missing 12 free throws, including three in the final 10 seconds before Norvell Jr. iced the game on a foul shot with 7.8 seconds left.

Junior guards Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy had 16 points apiece for the Southern Conference regular-season and conference tournament champion Spartans (27-8), who were making their first NCAA appearance since 2001. They had won six in a row and 11 of 12.

Gonzaga, which lost to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game last season, is 21-1 since a 72-70 loss at NCAA qualifier San Diego State on Dec. 21, although this one was never easy.

The Spartans trailed by nine at half before gradually closing the gap. Alonso’s bank shot with 7:24 remaining cut the Gonzaga lead to 57-54, and senior forward Jordy Kuiper’s jumper from the right baseline from an Alonso feed capped an 8-0 run to made it 57-56.

Troy hit two jumpers and Perkins made a floater in the lane to tie it at 60 with 3:22 remaining. Troy hit another layup to tie it at 62 with three minutes remaining, and Kuiper’s tip-in at 1:49 gave the Spartans a 64-62 lead before Perkins’ jumper tied it at 64 with 51 seconds left.

Ater Norvell Jr.’s trey, Alonso was called for an offensive foul for pushing off on a screen, but sophomore forward Rui Hachimura missed two free throws and UNCG rebounded.

Senior forward Marvin Smith’s potential game-tying 3-pointer was in-and-out with 7.8 seconds left, and Norvell Jr. made a free throw to ice the game.

“We’ll always think about that last minute or so and think kind of ‘what if,'” UNCG coach Wes Miller said. “I could have made some better play calls. I changed the play call coming out of the timeout. And I put Francis in a really tough position. I think if I kept the first one it wouldn’t have been scouted and we might have got a better look and not turned it over.”

Freshman forward Corey Kispert had eight points and Hacihumra had five rebounds for the Bulldogs, making their 20th consecutive NCAA appearance. Gonzaga and Kansas entered this season as the only teams to have won nine straight NCAA openers.

Sophomore forward James Dickey III had 10 points and 11 rebounds for UNCG, which missed its first 13 3-pointers and was 3-for-22 from distance.