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Analysis: Gonzaga pulls away late to defeat stubborn Lions, 73-60

UPDATED: Thu., Feb. 14, 2019, 11:28 p.m.

Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert reaches for the ball as Loyola Marymount guard Dameane Douglas defends during the first half Thursday in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)
Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert reaches for the ball as Loyola Marymount guard Dameane Douglas defends during the first half Thursday in Los Angeles. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

LOS ANGELES – Gonzaga’s top-rated offense had its worst scoring half of the season.

The Zags had issues keeping Loyola Marymount off the offensive boards and from scoring in the paint.

Their string of blowout wins came to an end. But not Gonzaga’s winning streak.

The third-ranked Zags rode another big scoring night from forward tandem Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke to a hard-fought 73-60 victory Thursday at Gersten Pavilion.

The Zags (24-2, 11-0 WCC) needed a 13-2 run in the final 5 minutes to earn their 15th consecutive win.

“We had to dig probably deeper than we’ve had to dig in quite a while and Loyola Marymount was the cause of that,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

“They were pushing us around a little bit and beating us to balls and they definitely the more physical team.

“We kind of weathered every storm and made enough big plays to get a gap.”

If it brought back bad memories it’s because offensive rebounding helped fuel Tennessee’s and North Carolina’s wins over Gonzaga in December.

The issue resurfaced against Loyola Marymount, but the Zags still found a way to get to the finish line.

Gonzaga delivered on offense in the second half, shooting 63.6 percent. Hachimura and Clarke were reliable weapons when Gonzaga was struggling in the opening half and when it functioned more smoothly in the second half.

“We started getting some things going to the basket, quit settling and started toughening up a little bit. We were able to deliver through some physicality,” Few said. “Guys made some shots and we took great care of the ball and that’s always been a huge key to our offense.”

Josh Perkins and Corey Kispert opened the second half with 3-pointers to bump Gonzaga’s lead to 38-31, but the Lions refused to go away. Eli Scott scored a couple of baskets and Petr Herman’s tip-in pulled LMU within 44-43.

LMU took the lead, 54-53, when Joe Quintana’s 3-pointer settled in the net after a couple of kind bounces on the rim. Perkins’ two free throws gave Gonzaga the lead. Zach Norvell Jr.’s 3-pointer bumped GU’s advantage to 60-56.

James Batemon’s step-back jumper over Hachimura cut the deficit to two, but Gonzaga finally got some breathing room with a 9-0 spurt.

Clarke connected on a tough jump hook. Hachimura got loose for a pair of layups and Norvell struck again with a dagger 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired.

“I just had an eye on it (the shot clock) and I knew Perk did,” Norvell said. “I just wanted to get a clean look and rotated without the ball. The (defensive) guy was kind of watching the ball.”

Suddenly, the Zags led 69-58 with 2:30 remaining. Gonzaga’s defense clamped down in the final 5 minutes, limiting LMU to one field goal.

“We lost the rebounds really bad and they played really hard,” Hachimura said. “The last 3 minutes we did a good job shutting down the game. We got easy points and we defended and got rebounds. We need to do that the whole game, not only last 2-3 minutes.”

Hachimura finished with 22 points and Clarke added 17 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Norvell chipped in 13.

LMU outscored Gonzaga 38-30 in the paint and 18-2 in second-chance points. Five Lions scored in double figures.

The Zags were out of sorts from the outset, falling behind 11-6 in the first 4 minutes. They put together their best offensive stretch following the first media timeout. Norvell’s 3-pointer launched a 10-0 run, capped by a pair of free throws by Hachimura.

Gonzaga opened up a 25-19 lead on Hachimura’s 7-foot fadeaway over 7-foot-3 Mattias Markusson, but the Zags’ offense went ice cold over the final 7:10. The Zags made just one of their last 12 shots.

In one sequence, Gonzaga missed three open 3-point looks and two driving layups that bounded off the iron.

The only thing that kept the Zags in the lead 32-31 at half was five free throws and a Lions’ offense that joined Gonzaga in struggling to score.

LMU cashed in on eight offensive rebounds for 10 second-chance points and piled up a 24-12 edge in point paints. Markusson was a key figure in both of those stats, grabbing three offensive boards and hitting 5 of 7 field-goal attempts en route to 11 first-half points.

Markusson, who scored just six points in LMU’s 73-55 loss to Gonzaga last month, didn’t score in the second half.

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