SPOKANE — Top-ranked Gonzaga went undefeated through the West Coast Conference last season, but the road looks a little tougher this year.
For the second league game in a row, Gonzaga needed to come back to beat a WCC rival nestled near the bottom of the standings.
Killie Tillie scored 20 points and blocked a potential tying shot in the closing seconds to help Gonzaga beat Pepperdine 75-70 for its 32nd consecutive home win.
Filip Petrusev scored 16 points and Joel Ayayi had 12 for Gonzaga (16-1, 2-0 West Coast). The Bulldogs have the longest home winning streak in the country. They have won eight consecutive overall since losing to Michigan.
But coach Mark Few was mostly full of criticism for his team after the game.
“We turned the ball over way, way too much,” Few said about his team’s 17 turnovers. “That was the story tonight.”
“We were trying too hard on the offensive end,” Few added, after his team shot 49% for the game and made just 5 of 18 from 3-point range.
But he praised Tillie for “an unbelievably courageous effort. He really helped us tonight with his energy.”
Tillie hit 9 of 16 from the floor and added four rebounds and four assists, plus that key blocked shot on Pepperdine leading scorer Colbey Ross.
Admon Gilder added 11 points and Corey Kispert had 10 for the Zags.
Petrusev added 10 rebounds for a double-double, but said the Zags on defense “weren’t as good as we need to be.”
“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Petrusev said. “We’ve got to execute the game plan better, contest every shot, make them make shots over us.”
Ross scored 24 points and Kameron Edwards 14 for Pepperdine (7-9, 0-2). The Waves have has lost 38 straight games to Gonzaga since their last win in 2002.
“Our guys competed, competed hard,” Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They were just too big down low for us.”
While Pepperdine has a losing record, they had close losses to USC, Arizona and Providence this season.
“We kind of play to the level of our competition, which has resulted in mediocrity,” Romar said. “Hopefully we can use this game as a springboard.”
This game was a nail-biter from the start.
Pepperdine led 18-16 early in the first half, behind 11 points by Ross, when Gonzaga went on a 9-0 run to take a 25-18 lead. Gonzaga pushed the lead to 33-24.
But the Zags didn’t score for more than three minutes and Pepperdine outscored them 13-4 the rest of the way to tie the game at 37-37 at halftime. Ross led all scorers with 15 points in the first half and both teams committed nine turnovers.
Consecutive baskets by Petrusev, Kispert and Tillie put Gonzaga up 48-42 early in the second.
Pepperdine went on a 9-0 run and Skylar Chavez hit a 3-pointer to put the Waves ahead 53-51.
Tillie hit two baskets and two free throws to put Gonzaga up 57-54.
Ross scored to tie the game at 59-59. Gonzaga replied with a 10-2 run for a 69-61 lead.
But the Zags went cold and Ross hit a pair of free throws to bring Pepperdine within 71-68 with 1:27 left.
Each team scored and Ross launched a 3-pointer that would have tied the game, but Tillie blocked the shot with 5 seconds left.
Pepperdine: The Waves boast three of the top seven scorers in the WCC in Ross (19.5 points per game), Kameron Edwards (16.7) and Kessler Edwards (15.3) … The Waves lead the nation in free throw shooting at 84.6%, but went to the line just nine times in this game, making seven… Kessler Edwards leads the WCC in rebounding at 8.1 boards per game.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are the only team in the nation with six players averaging double figures in scoring … They lead the nation in offense at 88.3 points per game, and are beating opponents by nearly 20 points per game … Gonzaga trailed at halftime in their conference opener at Portland on Thursday, but came back in the second half for an 85-72 win … No team won more conference games than Gonzaga’s 149 in the decade that just ended.
The Zags will likely remain No. 1.
Pepperdine: At San Diego next Saturday.
Gonzaga: At San Diego on Thursday.