Loss to LMU puts wrench in GU’s grand plan
LOS ANGELES – Loyola Marymount was at full strength. Gonzaga appeared to be in slow motion.
For the Bulldogs, that wasn’t a winning combination on the road against a hungrier opponent.
Loyola Marymount put together a big second half to overtake the 13th-ranked Bulldogs 74-66, the Lions’ first win over a ranked foe since knocking off Alabama in the 1990 NCAA tournament, a span of 36 games.
“There are pretty good teams and pretty good talent in this league and if we’re not playing at our highest level, we’re just as susceptible as anybody to getting beat, especially if they’re outhustling us and beating us to loose balls,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “All the 50-50 balls, they pretty much got them.”
With 26 seconds left, LMU guard Vernon Teel sauntered over in front of the student section at Gersten Pavilion. “Rush the court,” he instructed.
After the Lions made four free throws to close out the victory, that’s exactly what happened as the students poured over the media table and onto the floor. It was similar to the scene that played out after San Francisco edged Gonzaga three weeks ago.
“I think the worst part is it puts us right back in a race for the league championship,” junior guard Steven Gray said. “We’re fighting for our lives again. You never want to see that (fans rushing the court). It’s embarrassing really.”
The Bulldogs dropped to 21-5 overall, 9-2 in the West Coast Conference. Portland and Saint Mary’s are one game back in the loss column, but GU holds the tiebreaker over both by virtue of season sweeps. The loss certainly didn’t help Gonzaga’s efforts to build a resume to stay in Spokane for the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
LMU (14-13, 5-6) received major contributions from three players who were sidelined by injuries when Gonzaga won 85-69 last month. Forward Ashley Hamilton had a team-high 17 points, Larry Davis added 12 and Jarred DuBois 10.
“At full strength we’re a tough team to be beat,” said Lions forward Drew Viney, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. “We just got all of our guys back this past weekend.”
The mobile Hamilton helped LMU control the interior. He had six boards and blocked three shots. Davis’ defense hounded Matt Bouldin into a subpar shooting night. DuBois, who didn’t practice during the week because of a sprained ankle, made two second-half 3-pointers, including one with 14 minutes remaining that gave the Lions the lead for good.
The Lions stretched their lead to 10 with 4:24 left. Gonzaga closed within four three times in the final 3 minutes, but LMU responded each time. The backbreaker came when LMU faced an inbound pass with 1 second left on the shot clock and 43 ticks remaining. Davis got free underneath, took the pass and made a layup, giving the Lions a 70-64 lead.
“We just switched it and they threw it behind me. I turned around and didn’t get a hand on it,” Gray said. “You definitely try to play through it, but that hurt.”
Gonzaga’s offense went off track for most of the second half. The dry spell actually started late in the first half when GU had a chance to expand on a nine-point lead. The Bulldogs made only one field goal in the last 5 minutes.
The Bulldogs made just 7 of 27 shots, including 1 of 8 3-pointers, in the second half. Elias Harris had 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting, Bouldin’s 10 points came on 3-of-12 shooting and Gray’s 11 came on 4-of-14 shooting.
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