SALT LAKE CITY (AP/WAFB) - A March Madness warm-up turned into a great escape for Gonzaga, as Southern almost pulled out the greatest upset ever in the NCAA tournament.
The Jags pushed the Zags to the limit Thursday, before coming up just short, 64-58. The SWAC champions almost became the first No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
When asked about Southern's performance head coach Roman Banks said, "From my perspective, I will always remember a group of guys in the Southern locker room that came out and expressed themselves well. Basically, an unknown ball club that proved to many people that they can play the game of basketball. I will also remember that, from a coaching perspective in this tournament, two or three bad possessions can cost you a ballgame. Obviously, we came here to win a ballgame not to play a ballgame. Those guys thought they had a chance in the locker room. They believed in our vision and our game plan and unfortunately we came up a little short."
Derick Beltran had 21 points to lead Southern (23-10) and his 14-foot baseline jumper tied it at 56. However, the Jaguars didn't make another field goal.
Kelly Olynyk led the Zags (32-2) with 21 points. But, it was a pair of 3-pointers - one by Gary Bell Jr., the next by Kevin Pagnos - that staked the Bulldogs to a 62-58 lead only moments after the game was tied at 56 with 3:45 left.
Banks said after the game he has always had a great respect for the Zags. "I came to Southern to try to build a basketball program, using Gonzaga as an example. To be playing these guys and using them as an example all year is special.
"To have a group of guys that come from the adversity that we come from as a basketball program and nobody in their wildest dreams in two years of having the job thought we would be here is emotional. But the thing that's more emotional to me is that those guys believed in me and believed in my vision and they never gave up. It's a sight to see what a group of young men can do if they believe. They have been a team and they have sacrificed a lot this year for the betterment of each other."
Southern Jameel Grace summed it up best saying, "Coming into the game we thought we was going to make history. No one comes into a game expecting to loose. We always expected to come into the game and win the game."
The #1 seeds now hold a 133-0 record against the #16 seeds, the Jags were oh so close to ending that streak.