LAS VEGAS – Killian Tillie returned to the court for the first time since Feb. 7 and promptly hit a 3-pointer in an arena where he can’t seem to miss from distance.
Then he hit another 3. Trotting back on defense, Tillie shouted to no one in particular: “This is my town.”
Hard to argue with a man who has made 16 of his last 17 3-pointers at the Orleans Arena dating back to his memorable performance in last year’s WCC Tournament.
The first of his three 3s Monday put a charge into a building and his teammates, who quickly took command and rolled to a 100-74 victory over Pepperdine.
The top-ranked Zags (30-2) probably feel a lot like Tillie in many ways. They’ve won the last six WCC Tournaments at the Orleans Arena, and they’ll shoot for No. 7 on Tuesday against second-seeded Saint Mary’s.
Tillie, who had been sidelined by a partially torn plantar fascia, received a warm ovation from the 5,000-plus GU faithful when he checked into the game. The crowd erupted when Tillie connected with 12:50 left in the first half and did the same about 100 seconds later when the French native rattled in another 3-pointer.
“We actually played off his energy,” sophomore wing Zach Norvell Jr. said. “He not only came in and made good reads but he was aggressive out there, getting us going.”
Tillie’s second 3 triggered a 13-0 run as the Zags built a 29-13 lead. The Waves (16-18) were within 35-20 when Tillie made another 3 from the top of the key, and the Zags closed the half comfortably in front 47-26.
“I like it here,” Tillie understated.
The Zags, the nation’s highest-scoring team and leader in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency ratings, looked rusty for all of about 4 minutes after a nine-day layoff.
They put on an offensive clinic against the undermanned Waves, who were missing starting forward Kameron Edwards (foot) and reserve wing Andre Ball, who was taken off the court on a stretcher in Thursday’s opener.
Pepperdine turnovers put Gonzaga’s transition game in overdrive, but the Zags didn’t need any extra help. Their half-court offense torched the Waves, who couldn’t handle Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke inside or Tillie beyond the arc. Hachimura and Clarke combined for 31 points and 12 rebounds. The Zags outscored Pepperdine 52-26 in the lane.
The Waves didn’t have much luck with Gonzaga’s backcourt either. Norvell scored a team-high 18 points, and Corey Kispert and Josh Perkins each added 11.
“This team just can come at you in so many different ways,” Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They’re a tough bunch.”
Gonzaga consistently made the extra pass, leading to plenty of highlight-reel finishes and the team’s 59.7-percent shooting. Perkins and Geno Crandall each had six assists, and Clarke added five. The Zags finished with 26 assists, matching the Portland game for the second highest this season.
“We’ve played for each other all year,” Perkins said. “The next guy is happy for the next guy. Just celebrating for each other and playing basketball the right way and in the stat sheet it shows up like that sometimes.”
Gonzaga’s defense did its share, too. Pepperdine came in stocked with confidence from three tournament wins, but they trailed 80-40 midway through the second half. The Waves needed a flurry of 27 points in the final 6:15 to cut into Gonzaga’s lead.
Sophomore point guard Colbey Ross had 20 points, including a couple of rainbow finishes in the lane over taller GU defenders, but he was limited to three assists and committed half of the Waves’ 16 turnovers.
“Everybody knows our offense takes care of itself in a sense,” said Crandall, who had four assists. “We knew they were coming in hot. We were going to have to really guard the perimeter and force them to be drivers and when they got to the rim force them to finish over length.”
Gonzaga secured its fifth 30-win season in program history, all in the last seven seasons.
“I forgot about that, that’s awesome,” coach Mark Few said. “That shows excellence over a long period of time, literally from early November to mid March.”
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