Gonzaga, playing in its first Final Four after so many deep NCAA Tournament runs, watched as South Carolina turned the Bulldogs’ 14-point advantage into a two-point deficit with 7 minutes to play. They didn’t panic. And when it mattered most, when the lights were the brightest, Gonzaga stayed cool.
In a major role reversal, Mark Few’s team was the side playing with all the pressure. They were the side people thought might tighten up late in a nail-biter. After so many years of being the hunter, they were the hunted.
Two fantastic coaching decisions by Mark Few — and perfect execution by his players on the floor — allowed them to avoid every last South Carolina bullet.
With a three-point lead and 12.7 seconds remaining, Few did the smart thing and gave an intentional foul at the proper time. Doing so on the inbound pass would have been a mistake. South Carolina was in the double bonus while the Bulldogs were still shooting one-and-one. With so much time remaining, rushing the process could have a Gonzaga player on the line with a one-point lead, shooting one-and-one, with over 10 seconds left. A lot can go wrong in that scenario.
Instead, Josh Perkins waited until the 3.5-second mark to foul Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell, who has been a star all tournament, made the first and was forced to brick the second on purpose. Few, in another smart move, inserted freshman forward Killian Tillie on the block for Przemek Karnowski. Everything worked according to plan from there.
Tillie grabbed the board with 2.2 seconds left, and sank two free-throws on the other end to seal a 77-73 victory and a spot in Monday night’s national title game. It was no small thing having Tillie, who shoots 78 percent from the line, taking those shots instead of Karnowksi (58 percent).
Mark Few didn’t wilt under the bright lights. Nor did his stars. Nor did little used Tillie. They kept calm, and will carry on.