MORGANTOWN - No matter what West Virginia threw at No. 20 Gonzaga Tuesday night, the Zags had an answer.
Of course, isn't that always the case when it comes to the Gonzaga and the Mountaineers?
West Virginia did manage to make the third meeting between the teams in the last three seasons far more interesting than the first two, but in the end the Zags squashed what momentum WVU had built and used a late surge to win, 80-76.
And so when Eron Harris was asked if this was one the Mountaineers let get away, he was short and to the point with his answer.
"Yep,'' Harris said.
Gonzaga used an 18-2 run to erase an eight-point West Virginia lead with four minutes to play, then fought off a charge by the Mountaineers in the final 90 seconds that got the margin as close as 76-74. WVU's last gasp was when Harris missed a 3-pointer with 22 seconds to play and West Virginia down by four.
The loss dropped West Virginia to 6-4 heading into Saturday's game with Marshall in Charleston. Gonzaga, which beat West Virginia in lopsided routs at the end of the 2011-12 season and the beginning of 2012-13, improved to 9-1.
"These guys have been in a lot of huge games and a lot of tough situations over the years,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "They know how to handle pressure.''
Harris, who kept West Virginia afloat in the first half with 18 points, finished with 23, including five 3-pointers. Gonzaga did a good job smothering him in the second half, though, and the rest of the Mountaineers couldn't keep pace.
"We did a much better job in the second half just locating him,'' Few said of Harris. "He was lighting us up the first half, but the second half we located him in our zone.''
Terry Henderson, who made his first start of the season, had 13 of his 15 points in the second half for WVU. Juwan Staten had 17 points and nine rebounds.
Prezemek Karnowski, a massive 7-foot-1, 300-pounder, had 19 points, 13 rebounds and, much to the displeasure of the 9,350 fans in attendance, was not whistled for a foul until two minutes remained. But it was Kevin Pangos who really hurt WVU. His three straight 3-pointers at the end of that 18-2 run twisted the dagger and he finished with 18 points.
"Pangos was the only person who was going to get the shots at the end of the game,'' Staten said. "And we let him take them.''
Gonzaga also shot 52 percent in the second half and had a 43-36 rebounding edge. West Virginia turned the ball over just five times, but shot only 37 percent from the floor in both halves.
Leading 39-35 at halftime, West Virginia slowly pushed the lead to eight and then to 10, 51-41. It was still 53-45 when Gonzaga got back into it with defense, holding West Virginia to two field goals in five minutes and getting the margin down to three, 55-52.
West Virginia seemed to gain a little bit of breathing room on Henderson's four-point play with 8:23 to play that made it 64-56, but as happened so often Kyle Dranginis answered with his own 3-pointer within seconds and Gonzaga was off on its late-game run. By the time it was over, the Zags had gone on that 18-2 run that would give them a 74-66 lead with just over two minutes to play. It was too much to overcome down the stretch.
The first half was all Harris for West Virginia. He had four 3-pointers among his 18 points, making four of his six tries and shooting 6 for 10 overall. In contrast, the rest of the Mountaineers combined to shoot 6 of 22 overall and 2 of 11 on 3-pointers.
It didn't matter, though, because West Virginia's defense was good enough to hold Gonzaga to 38.2-percent shooting. The Zags lead the country in field goal percentage at nearly 55 percent.
Neither team really had command of the game throughout the first half. Gonzaga led for nearly the first six minutes, but never by more than four points. West Virginia took its first lead at 13-12 on a couple of Harris free throws and led by five, 27-22, on a Nathan Adrian 3-pointer.
But Gonzaga immediately regained the lead with six straight points and pretty much held it until Harris dropped in his back-to-back 3s late in the half. When Staten drove for a layup with 1.5 seconds to play, the lead was 39-35.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
Gonzaga 80, West Virginia 76
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