Forward Sam Dower Jr. put up 25 points and 15 rebounds on Senior Night and was upstaged by fellow senior Brian Bhaskar, much to Dower’s delight.
Bhaskar, a popular walk-on from Monterey, Calif., canned a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left that nearly blew the roof off the McCarthey Athletic Center. He was mobbed by teammates after the horn sounded on Gonzaga’s feel-good 86-67 victory over Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
“That made the night,” said Dower, who had the sixth double-double of his career and fifth of his senior season. “I knew it was going in right when it left his hands. It’s a night we’ll always remember.”
For a lot of reasons. Kelly Olynyk, who represented the Boston Celtics in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday in New Orleans as part of NBA All-Star weekend, surprised his former GU teammates by showing up for Saturday’s shoot-around.
To conclude pre-game ceremonies for seniors Dower, Bhaskar, David Stockton and Drew Barham, Olynyk was announced and received a loud ovation. Olynyk, who would have been a senior but left early for the NBA, hugged his classmates and removed his jacket to reveal his No. 13 Gonzaga uniform.
“I’m just supporting my guys,” said Olynyk, who sat in front-row seats with his parents and also spent some time in the Kennel Club.
Dower and Olynyk are close friends. They were texting Friday, but Olynyk kept his travel plans a secret.
“He was like, ‘I might as well stay here for the All-Star game,’ ” Dower said. “Today I see this guy at shoot-around and I said, ‘What, I thought you were staying in New Orleans, man?’ It was definitely a surprise. I was happy to see him.”
Gonzaga’s win, coupled with BYU’s road victory over Saint Mary’s, gives the Bulldogs (23-4, 13-1) at least a share of the WCC title with four road games remaining. They went 15-0 at home, the program’s 10th unbeaten home season and the first since 2006.
“I told them a couple things: To finish the season undefeated at home, I don’t know how many college basketball teams have done that but it’s not many,” coach Mark Few said. “The fact we’re 23-4 at this point, we might have had three teams that have had that record. And to clinch at least a league title in the second week of February is quite an accomplishment.
“They need to enjoy it and feel good about it.”
Gonzaga had to work for win No. 23. Much like the first meeting, the short-handed Lions (11-16, 3-12) fought until time expired. Senior guard Anthony Ireland scored 23 points and freshmen Evan Payne and Gabe Levin each had 17.
LMU trailed by 14 at the half, but was within 61-52 with 8:56 left. Dower’s three-point play and layup gave Gonzaga a 14-point cushion and the margin remained in double digits.
“We played our guts out,” Lions coach Max Good said. “We made some tough shots.”
Gonzaga utilized its size advantage. Dower, who had 28 points and 14 rebounds in the first meeting, made 9 of 14 shots and 7 of 9 free throws. Przemek Karnowski added 11 points and six rebounds. Kevin Pangos had 17 points and Gary Bell Jr. added 14 points.
The Zags had a 40-25 rebounding edge and a 22-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Stockton had five assists. Barham, who replaced Bell in the starting lineup, added two points and a blocked shot.
Bhaskar, who entered with 90 seconds left, put an exclamation point on Senior Night with his 3-pointer.
“Stocks came up and said, ‘You have to take a shot,’ Bhaskar said. “Once it went in, hands down the greatest feeling ever.”