Kyle Wiltjer scored 32 points as 10th-ranked Gonzaga built a big early lead and held off repeated Georgia challenges to defeat the Bulldogs 88-76 in the NIT Season Tip-Off here Wednesday night.
Georgia will now play Minnesota, which lost the other semifinal game to hometown team St. John’s, on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Gonzaga needed less than four minutes to build its lead into double digits. The West Coast Bulldogs scored on three of their first four possessions, two buckets coming from Wiltjer, a junior in his first season at Gonzaga after transferring from Kentucky.
The Zags’ fast start basically proved to be the difference in the game. “We didn’t get off to a very good start but after that, we played it pretty nose to nose,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “We made it a point to try to take away the three-point line, which we did and we knew when we did that, they were really good post players one on one, and they completed those plays inside and that was the difference.”
The Gonzaga lead reached its largest at 54-35 less than 3 1/2 minutes into the second half, when a technical foul assessed to Fox yielded two Kevin Pangos foul shots. Thereafter, Georgia rallied behind junior point guard Charles Mann to get within striking distance on several occasions.
Mann’s layup at the 10:12 mark pulled the Bulldogs with single digits for the first time of the half at 60-51. A outback by freshman Yante Maten with 9:22 left got Georgia its closest margin at 61-53.
Georgia got with eight one final time on a Mann-assisted layup by Nemi Djurisic with 7:35 left, cutting the margin to 65-57. Another jumper by Wiltjer brought the lead back to 10 on Gonzaga’s next possession. The Zags sealed the victory by scoring 15 of its last 21 points at the free throw line.
Mann led the Bulldogs with 23 points, 16 in the second half. J.J. Frazier added 14 points, 11 coming in the final period.
Courtesy of UGA Sports Communications