LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Josh Perkins helped keep No. 11 Gonzaga close in the first half before Silas Melson came up big during the final 20 minutes.
Perkins had 18 points and Melson scored 10 of his 12 during a second-half rally as Gonzaga beat Florida 77-72 on Friday night in a semifinal at the AdvoCare Invitational.
“Silas stepped up,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I’ve been on him and on him to do that. I think he’s a more confident player this year. I don’t think we were shocked by that.”
After getting down by 11 points in the opening half, Melson hit two 3s during a 15-2 run that put Gonzaga ahead 68-59 with 5 1/2 minutes left. He made two free throws with 22.9 seconds remaining to make it 76-70.
“He didn’t start off the game very well,” Few said. “He was extremely tentative, and just kind of fumbling, stumbling around there. And then he set his feet and played with some pride.”
The Bulldogs (5-0), who will play No. 21 Iowa State in Sunday’s final, got 16 points from Johnathan Williams, while Nigel Williams-Goss added 14.
Devin Robinson led Florida (5-1) with 18 points and KeVaughn Allen had 15.
“It seemed like every time we made a mistake (defensively) they made us pay,” Florida coach Mike White said.
Robinson had 13 points, including Florida’s first nine, as the Gators went up 37-32 at halftime.
“We should have got the win,” Robinson said. “We played hard and took a step forward, but we still lost. Work on the things we didn’t do tonight and come out Sunday and try to get another win.”
The Gators will face Miami for third place.
Gonzaga, which trailed by 11 points with 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half, had a late surge keyed by three of Perkins’ 15 first-half points. Zach Collins had a slam that got the Bulldogs within 31-27 right after Florida’s Canyon Barry, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry, misfired on a breakaway dunk attempt.
Rick Barry was at the game.
Florida beat Seton Hall 81-76 on Thursday in a matchup of teams that received votes in this week’s AP poll. The Gators came up short in a bid to start a season 6-0 or better for the 10th time.
Gonzaga improved to 8-0 in the Thanksgiving tournament at Disney formerly known as the Old Spice Classic. The Bulldogs won the event in 2008 and 2012.
The Bulldogs could continue to bolster their argument to move into the Top 10 by sweeping all three of their games in the invitational. It should also give them momentum heading into the upcoming week that includes a game Dec. 3 against No. 8 Arizona.
COMING OFF THE BENCH
Barry, who entered leading the Gators with a scoring average of 14.6 points, had 12 Friday. Collins, who also began play as the Bulldogs top scorer (13.8) was held to four.
Florida will go against Miami in Sunday’s third-place game.
Gonzaga and No. 21 Iowa State will play for the championship on Sunday. “A veteran crew that knows how to win,” Few said of Iowa State. “They’ll go small and they’re very comfortable playing that way. They’re very difficult to guard.”
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