SALT LAKE CITY -- Gonzaga built a reputation on being the little basketball program that could.
On Thursday, the Bulldogs almost ended up on the other side of the underdog story.
Kelly Olynyk scored 21 points and Kevin Pangos hit a late clutch 3-pointer as No. 1 seed Gonzaga survived an upset by edging 16th-seeded Southern, 64-58.
Even though his team is playing as a top seed for the first time in school history, Gonzaga coach Mark Few didn't seem surprised that Southern gave his squad a serious scare. While watching game film to prepare for this NCAA Tournament opener, the thought popped in his mind, "This could be a real grinder."
It certainly was that.
The heavily favored Bulldogs (32-2) didn't shake Southern (23-10) until the final seconds.
"Everybody wants to see that first 1-16 loss," Few said. "My guys deserve a lot of credit. They played with a lot of poise down the stretch when not a lot was going their way."
Pangos finished with 16 points, including a dagger of a 3-pointer that gave Gonzaga a 62-58 lead with 1:57 remaining. Pangos then helped the Zags avoid being the first No. 1-seed to lose to a No. 16 squad by hitting two free throws with 14 seconds remaining.
"Move forward," said Olynyk, who also grabbed 10 points for a double-double. "Any win in the tournament is a good win."
Derick Beltran scored 21 points and played a key role in helping Southern go on a 12-2 run late in the second half. Yondarius Johnson got the comeback going, hitting a 3-pointer with 8:13 to go after Olynyk's strong second half put Gonzaga up 52-42.
The Jaguars were tied with the Bulldogs on two occasions in the final four minutes but couldn't quite get over the hump.
"Coming into the game, we thought we were going to make history," Southern guard Jameel Grace said. "No one comes into a game expecting to lose. We always expected to come into the game and win the game."
While threatening to do just that, Southern had to remind Gonzaga of its old self. To that point, Southern coach Roman Banks said he's used Gonzaga as a model for his SWAC program, which has been ineligible to play in the postseason the past couple of years after an academic scandal.
"To be playing these guys and using them as an example all year is special," Banks said. "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. ... It's a sight to see what a group of young men can do if they believe."
Southern really started believing -- and making the EnergySolutions Arena crowd believe a major upset was in the making -- during the second-half run. Beltran scored seven straight points and Brandon Moore's free throws tied it at 54-54 with 4:08 remaining.
Gary Bell Jr. (11 points) drained a 3-pointer to put the Zags up by three, but Gonzaga couldn't shake the SWAC champions.
Beltran, who shot 6-for-14 but was 4 of 8 from 3-point range, got Southern back within one point after two free throws with 2:28 remaining before Pangos hit his key 3-pointer.
Malcolm Miller's 3-pointer rimmed out with 1:20 remaining for Southern, and the Zags escaped down the stretch to avoid the stunner.
Gonzaga will play No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday.
Southern will return to Louisiana and work to build a tradition like Gonzaga, which is in its 15th straight NCAA tourney.
"We came into this game trying to win the game," Beltran said, shaking off a notion that this would be a moral victory for Southern. "There is nothing. It's not a good feeling because we worked so hard all year long. It just doesn't feel good."
The game started like a normal No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchup.
The Zags scored the first seven points and looked to be en route to an expected rout.
But Southern had other things in mind.
Miller got the Jaguars on the board for the first time at the 16:12 mark with a 3-point bucket that sparked Southern's fuse.