Gonzaga forward Terrance Williams stood at the foul line with a chance to put the game away. The Eagles had rallied from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and Williams’s free throws could give them a three-point lead over No. 4 St. John’s with 15 seconds left.
As both student sections roared, Williams took a deep breath, rolled the ball on the tips of his fingers and let it fly. Both of his shots found the bottom of the net, and the No. 8 Eagles scored a significant 56-53 victory on the road.
“He’s been in these moments for the last three years, so we’re just telling our guys what we’re going to do when we get up three after he makes the free throws,” Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner said.
The junior has become familiar with the pressures of a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference road test, and that experience showed once Gonzaga (5-2) got within striking distance. The Eagles trailed 41-33 at the start of the fourth quarter and tied the game at 52 with 1:33 left. Williams took over from there, getting to the basket on back-to-back possessions with strong drives to his left. The second produced the two free throws that iced the game.
“The pressure is not on you [during a comeback]. You have nothing to lose,” Williams said. “You do whatever you can to get that lead. It’s definitely harder to hold on to a lead.”
The Cadets (4-2) were led by senior guard Casey Morsell, a Virginia commit. He served as the consistent centerpiece of their offense, finishing with 23 points. But with St. John’s down three on the final play of the game, the ball didn’t touch his hands.
“We wanted to shut down the three-point shot,” Gonzaga senior guard Anwar Gill said. “They kind of got us in the third quarter, but we shut it down in the fourth.”
Gill got hot early and led the Eagles with 19 points. Williams added 16, including six in the final three minutes.
The early-season victory is all the more important for an Eagles team that had started the winter uncharacteristically slow, dropping the season opener to Bishop McNamara and then falling to Abington (Pa.) in last weekend’s Gonzaga Classic.
“We want to use this game as the start of a new season,” Gill said. “The McNamara game and the Abington game weren’t our best showing, so we wanted to use this to show everybody that we’re one of the best teams in the area and one of the best teams in the country.”