First it was Pepperdine. Then it was Pacific. Followed by San Francisco.
Gonzaga’s last three opponents took turns establishing season-high field-goal percentages allowed by the Zags’ defense. Now, those 45-to-47 percent shooting figures barely made a dent on the scoreboard as Pepperdine and Pacific managed just 62 and 61 points, respectively.
That trend came to an abrupt halt as the Zags hammered Loyola Marymount 93-55 in front of a docile gathering of 6,000 on Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
What continued was the fifth-ranked Zags’ penchant for owning the second half. Gonzaga (16-0, 4-0 WCC) turned in another choppy first half – along the same lines as Pepperdine, Pacific and to a lesser degree San Francisco – but left no doubt in the final 20 minutes.
And the reason why against the overmatched Lions (8-8, 1-4) was Gonzaga’s second-half defense.
Gonzaga went from so-so in the first half to impenetrable in the second. Pacific and Pepperdine experienced a similar fate. The Zags have outscored their last four foes by a combined 80 points in the second half.
“That was probably the game plan, and also execution of the game plan,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “We had toyed around with different things this week. Our intention was to go over everything and we went under on a few things and got burned by it” in the first half.
Burned to the tune of six LMU 3-pointers and 12 points from senior wing Buay Tuach. That production kept the Lions within three at 27-24 with 6:32 left and 41-35 inside the last two minutes.
Johnathan Williams scored the last five points of the half as Gonzaga took a 46-35 lead at the break.
LMU’s offense never had a chance in the second half after the Bulldogs adjusted their ball-screen coverage.
The Lions were stuck on a point-per-minute pace and their turnovers (12) nearly doubled their field seven goals. They finished 34.5 percent from the field.
“We were hard-showing at first but then we kind of went for our guards going over and staying lower so they could not just stop behind the screen and get those open looks,” said center Przemek Karnowski, who led six players in double figures with 17 points.
LMU forced numerous shots, missing wildly at times. Brandon Brown, a 5-foot-11 guard, took on Zags’ post players and flung up an air ball. Shamar Johnson launched a 25-foot 3-pointer with Karnowski in his face.
On one possession, the Lions had the ball on the baseline 15 feet from the bucket, completely unaware as the shot-clock expired.
“When you see them making six 3s at half they’re going to put up a lot of points on you,” GU guard Silas Melson said. “The second half, we came out more energized, more locked in.”
The other mismatch was inside, at both ends of the floor. Karnowski hit 7 of 10 shots, Williams 5 of 7 and Zach Collins heated up late en route to 15 points.
“We have Collins and big Shem making plays on the inside and J3 (Williams) had a hell of a night,” Melson said. “When the bigs are doing work like they do, it opens up the game for a lot of other people.”
Gonzaga rolled up a 50-24 edge in paint points, a big chunk of those coming when LMU turnovers led to easy buckets in transition for the Zags.
“We got some deflections, protected the rim a little better and that got us out running,” Few said. “We’re always better when we’re out running instead of having to pick it out of the next and walk it up.”
The Lions came in averaging 9.8 turnovers. They left with a season-high 22 giveaways.
“We just continued to turn the ball over,” LMU coach Mike Dunlap said. “There were plays where the ball was in their hand, then not. It was like chasing shadows.”
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