New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Domantas Sabonis had 14 points and 10 rebounds and 10th-ranked Gonzaga held off St. John's down the stretch to record a 73-66 victory and capture the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Gary Bell Jr. added 13 points and Byron Wesley scored 12 to help the Bulldogs (6-0) remain undefeated with a hard-earned result in front of a pro-St. John's crowd on the Red Storm's home court of Madison Square Garden.
The Red Storm whittled a 15-point second-half deficit down to three in the final minute and had a chance to tie it late. However, D'Angelo Harrison was called for an offensive foul with Gonzaga clinging to a 69-66 lead with 15 seconds to play.
"We were challenged," said Bulldogs head coach Mark Few. "I think we played two NCAA Tournament teams (in the tournament), which I think is a good sign. We played experienced teams in both Georgia and St. John's that are hungry to get back to the (NCAA) Tournament, to beat a ranked team. We had to fight them on offense. We had to fight them on defense."
Phil Greene IV sparked the Red Storm's near-comeback by netting 13 of his 20 points after halftime. Rysheed Jordan finished with 18 points and Harrison had 15 for St. John's (4-1).
"I was pleased with the fight our guys had in them tonight, coming back from 15 (points) down with just over 10 minutes left with the degree of foul trouble that we had going against a top-10 team in the country," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin.
Gonzaga appeared well on its way to a sixth straight double-digit triumph to open the season after building a 56-41 lead with nine minutes left. The Bulldogs then got sloppy with the ball and missed several foul shots, however, and St. John's capitalized to get back in it.
The Red Storm put together an 11-2 run, during which Gonzaga had three giveaways and went 0-of-3 from the line, to pull within 58-52 with less than 5 1/2 minutes to play. The margin was slimmer when Greene canned a pair of 3- pointers around a Wesley layup, with the second cutting the lead to 69-66 with a minute remaining.
Gonzaga came up empty on its ensuing trip down the court, but Kyle Dranginis denied Jordan's baseline drive and the ball went out of bounds to the Bulldogs with 26.9 seconds showing. However, Greene pressured the inbounds pass, which landed off the right knee of Bell to give St. John's possession with an opportunity to tie.
Harrison dribbled into the lane but was whistled for pushing off, though, and Kevin Pangos hit two free throws on the other end to seal the outcome for Gonzaga.
"We were close, but we didn't get the stops defensively down the stretch and didn't convert on a couple of opportunities at the rim," Lavin remarked.
The Bulldogs committed 17 turnovers and were plagued by miscues early on, giving the ball away four times in the game's first 3 1/2 minutes. They trailed 20-19 with 7:24 remaining in the opening half after 3-pointers by Jordan and Myles Stewart sparked an 8-2 Red Storm run.
Gonzaga then asserted control via an 8-0 spurt that Sabonis capped with a run- out slam off a Pangos feed, and never trailed thereafter.
The Bulldogs held a 33-26 lead late in the first half before Jordan capped a 13-point period with a layup that pulled St. John's within five at the break.
Greene's basket just over four minutes into the second half had the Red Storm down just 40-37, but St. John's didn't hit another field goal for nearly six minutes as Gonzaga embarked on a 13-1 tear. Bell had six points during the surge, which Kyle Wiltjer capped with a layup to stake Gonzaga to a 53-38 advantage midway through the final period.
Gonzaga is off to its third 6-0 start under Few, having previously done so in 2008-09 and 2012-13 ... Pangos, who was named the event's Most Outstanding Player, tallied 11 points and nine assists. He had three turnovers, however, after committing just one over the Bulldogs' first five games ... St. John's forward Chris Obekpa had just one point in 22 minutes before fouling out with 6:41 left ... Gonzaga has won its last four meetings with the Red Storm, the most recent occurring in the Second Round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.