SPOKANE, Wash. -- Given a chance to make a statement in a place that hasn't often lent itself to such moments, Saint Mary's guard Mickey McConnell bounced off Robert Sacre and hit a heavily contested shot with 1.2 seconds left to give the Gaels a 73-71 win for the ages over Gonzaga at McCarthey Athletic Center.
The win was the Gaels' (18-3, 6-0 West Coast Conference) first in Spokane since 1995 and left the Bulldogs (13-8, 3-3) three games behind first-place Saint Mary's in the WCC.
"First of all, it was a great college basketball game with two good teams," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "We happened to get last shot, and Mickey hit a really tough shot."
Gonzaga's Marquise Carter set up McConnell's heroics, tying the score by making two free throws with 10.2 seconds left. Once the second one went down, McConnell brought the ball up the court, worked around a screen, leaned into Sacre and made the acrobatic shot from near the left elbow for the last of his game-high 27 points.
"We were going to try to run an on-ball and get Sacre to switch off," McConnell said. "We knew we had to get one shot so we had to get the last shot."
McConnell's basket wrapped up a thrilling contest that befitted the teams' intense rivalry, and the game got especially interesting with 4:58 left. That's when Gonzaga's leading scorer, Steven Gray, fouled out on a charging call with the Bulldogs holding a 65-62 lead.
Without Gray in the backcourt,
Sacre hit a pair of free throws to put Gonzaga back up by one with 2:12 left. Again McConnell responded though, hitting a jumper to put Saint Mary's up 70-69 at the 1:59 mark.
Neither team scored again until Mitchell Young split two free throws with 19.9 seconds left, putting the Gaels up 71-69 and setting the stage for a furious finish.
Saint Mary's looked early as if it might be in trouble down low, because Sacre had stretches when he took over the game. The 7-footer went on an 8-0 run of his own at one point, dominating the low post and picking up fouls on a host of Gaels to put the Bulldogs up 24-21.
Sacre's work left Saint Mary's frontcourt so riddled with fouls that Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett turned to seldom-used forward Phil Benson for minutes. Benson appeared to tie the score at 37 on a layup with 1.4 seconds left in the half, but a charge was called on McConnell, and Gonzaga took a 37-35 lead into the break.
Benson helped to disrupt Sacre with his physical nature and combined with Young to help limit the Bulldogs' big man to just two points after halftime. Sacre finished with 17, tied with Elias Harris for team-high.
"For him (Benson) to do that," Bennett said, "having played the minutes he has, playing a game like that and playing that well is pretty impressive."
Saint Mary's (18-3, 6-0 WCC) at Portland (15-6, 3-3), 4 p.m. ESPNU