SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — All year long, Southern coach Roman Banks kept telling his players that they should try to be like Gonzaga.
On Thursday, they almost beat Gonzaga.
The 16th-seeded Jaguars played shoulder-to-shoulder with one of the best teams in the country, before falling 64-58 to the Zags in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
With 3:45 left, this was a tie game. From there, the Jaguars (23-10) didn’t make another field goal, while Gonzaga’s Gary Bell Jr., and Kevin Pangos each hit 3-pointers to help Gonzaga (32-2) pull away.
Southern came up short in its quest to become the first No. 16 to knock off a No. 1. No. 16 seeds are now 0-113, though Southern stood out as one of those teams that really had a chance.
“We were basically an unknown ballclub that showed they can play the game of basketball,” Banks said. “But we came here to win a ballgame, not play a ballgame.”
Still, this was a darn good showing for a program nearly wiped off the map three years ago because of an NCAA investigation into problems in the classroom. Southern still has players on the roster who were around for the 20-plus-loss seasons that ensued. Banks said he looked to Gonzaga — tiny school with big dreams — as the program his players should try to emulate.
Bulldogs coach Mark Few said he wasn’t surprised the game was so close.
“The more I watched film on them, the more I thought, ‘This could be a real grinder,'” Few said of the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions. “They don’t give you many easy opportunities. They’re very patient on offense.”
Led by Derick Beltran’s 21 points, Southern made life hard on the West Coast Conference champions from beginning to end, blocking eight shots, making 10 3-pointers, harassing its star player, Kelly Olynyk, and never letting the Bulldogs out of striking range.
Olynyk scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half to help the Zags (32-2) advance to Saturday’s game against Wichita State.
But there was no celebration. Just a big sigh of relief.
“That crowd gets going, everyone wants to see that first 1-16 loss,” Few said. “My guys deserve credit. They showed a lot of poise down the stretch when things weren’t going their way.”
Though Olynyk was the force that kept Gonzaga ahead through the second half, it was a pair of 3-pointers — one by Gary Bell Jr., the next by Pangos — that gave the Bulldogs their small cushion after Southern tied things at 56 with 3:45 left.
Bell’s 3 made it 59-56 after Beltran hit a 14-footer on the baseline to close out a 15-4 Southern run and tie the game.
Beltran answered with two free throws to cut the deficit to one, but Gonzaga responded by working the ball to Pangos, whose 3 made it a four-point game.
Yondarius Johnson and Malcom Miller both had open looks on the next possession for Southern but neither could convert.
The Jaguars did almost everything right in this game, but missed five open shots down the stretch that could have put them over the top.
“From a coaching perspective, you learn that two or three bad possessions can cost you a ballgame,” Banks said.
Pangos (16 points) made two free throws with 14.3 seconds left to seal the game. Only then did the Gonzaga cheering section rile up and the rest of the crowd, pulling for the underdog, settle down.
“Everyone was so moved by their effort, their resilience, their confidence,” Few said. “If I wasn’t coaching on the other sideline, they’d be a tough team not to root for.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.