For a while there, Gonzaga was involved in several tight contests that required late-game execution.
The Zags haven’t messed around the last two games, eliminating most of the suspense by the first or second media timeout.
Gonzaga’s fast start Thursday was basically the end for Loyola Marymount. The ninth-ranked Zags scored the first 17 points and coasted to a 76-46 victory over the short-handed Lions in front of another sell-out crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga (24-4, 14-1 WCC) got some unexpected help about two hours after the final buzzer. San Francisco upset Saint Mary’s 70-63. In the span of five days and two games, the Zags have gone from trailing the Gaels (24-4, 13-2) by one to leading by one.
LMU (8-18, 3-12) played without leading scorer James Batemon (turf toe) and third-leading scorer Steven Haney, who suffered a season-ending knee injury while scoring 31 points against Pepperdine on Saturday.
The Zags’ eighth consecutive win looked early on a little like their seventh on Saturday against Saint Mary’s. Gonzaga jumped out to a 22-5 lead in Moraga, California, and led by as many as 22 in the second half.
“Kind of what we did with Saint Mary’s, too,” said freshman wing Corey Kispert, who scored 14 points off the bench to become the seventh different player to lead the Zags in scoring. “Shut ’em out early and kind of take away that hope right away.”
The Lions’ first eight possessions weren’t pretty. They committed five turnovers. Their first two shots were rejected by Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams. They didn’t score until Eli Scott dropped a jumper with 14:25 remaining.
By then, five Zags had cracked the scorebook. The margin swelled to 31-7 after a pair of Silas Melson free throws with 5:32 remaining in the half.
Gonzaga was coming off perhaps its best 40 minutes of the season and its defense has improved this month.
The Zags held LMU to a season-low 46 points and Saint Mary’s to a season-low tying 65 points. Point totals for their three opponents before that: 61, 60 and 59.
“We’re always going to be able to score the ball. We have so many pieces,” point guard Josh Perkins said. “But just playing together defensively and making things tough for the other team is going to be what takes us far in the tournament.”
GU is trying to ride this wave of momentum into the postseason while power conference teams continually knock each other off and shake up the rankings.
“It’s really important,” Melson said. “Teams are falling off left and right across the country. We have to keep our foot on the pedal first to get into the (NCAA) Tournament and second to get a good seed.”
Zach Norvell Jr. kept the throttle down after swiping a pass with 7:30 left, flying down court and rising for a dunk over Scott. In Saturday’s game, Norvell was swatted the rim by SMC’s Jordan Hunter and suffered a cut above his eye that required postgame stitches.
“Stay in attack mode, stay aggressive and try to finish over the contact,” Norvell said.
The Zags put the Lions away with an 18-3 burst midway through the second half that was reminiscent of how they opened the contest.
“We jumped them pretty good (early), and got it going with defense. Our defense was ‘handsy’ and made plays,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “I thought we hit a little bit of a lull there, but again our defense in the second half was pretty solid.”
Johnathan Williams had 12 points and 13 rebounds for his fifth consecutive double-double. That hasn’t been done at GU since Domantas Sabonis’ sophomore season in 2015.
Killian Tillie, shaken up after absorbing a shot to the back of his head in a loose-ball scramble, returned to nail two 3-pointers and finish with 12 points.
Gonzaga had another big night inside the 3-point arc, making 19 of 27 attempts to offset a 7-of-24 effort from distance.
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