LAS VEGAS – As the top scorer and rebounder Monday evening, Killian Tillie had plenty of moments that stimulated the Gonzaga-friendly crowd in a West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal against San Francisco.
But there was another moment that went mostly unnoticed, maybe with the exception of a few astute Orleans Arena observers.
The Gonzaga contingent in Las Vegas may have gasped had it seen Tillie grimace and briefly clutch his ankle, but most eyes were focused on teammate Ryan Woolridge, who knifed through the lane to convert a layup that restored a two-point lead for the Bulldogs with 13:26 to play.
Tillie watched his next shot miss then subbed out less than a minute later. GU’s athletic training team taped ice over the inside of Tillie’s left/foot ankle and the senior watched the Bulldogs tinker with the lead for the next three minutes before returning to the scorers table – and eventually the court – with 9:13 left.
“Just shook it off. Played through it,” Tillie said. “Obviously it’s not great, but I’ll just play through it. I’m not going to give up.”
At this point, Tillie has more injuries than seasons spent at Gonzaga – a hip, both knees and both ankles have all forced him to miss time – but it also means the French forward has built the pain tolerance to combat a few of the more minor ailments.
Indeed, Tillie’s best minutes were still ahead of him even after walking to the bench and having his ankle treated Monday evening. The Bulldogs needed them, too, trailing the Dons 59-58 when he finally returned to the court.
“Gave me a little chip on my shoulder,” he said.
The chip on Tillie’s shoulder apparently helped him ignore the kink in his ankle, because the All-WCC First Team selection scored 10 of his 19 points and grabbed two rebounds inside the final eight minutes, helping the Bulldogs finally knock down a scrappy USF team that didn’t let Gonzaga build more than a two-possession lead in the second half.
“It’s just a testament to how strong he is and how good of a player he is,” freshman forward Drew Timme said of Tillie. “Being able to battle through what he’s battled through is insane and I’ve learned a lot from him doing that and being able to watch him and see how he delivers in these tight moments. It’s really cool.”
Timme didn’t notice Tillie holding his ankle in the second half, but wasn’t surprised to see what his teammate did afterward.
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Killian Tillie (33) vies for a loose ball against the San Francisco Dons during the first half of a West Coast Conference semi-final basketball game on Monday, March 9, 2020, at The Orleans in Las Vegas, Nev. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
“I didn’t see what happened but he did what he does,” Timme said. “That’s just Killian being Killian and delivering and putting the team on his back and being the national player of the year. That’s just what he does.”
Tillie picked an offensive rebound off the glass, then stepped back out to nail a 3-pointer that gave the Bulldogs a 67-65 lead with 5:36 to play. The Dons had trimmed a six-point deficit to two points on Charles Minlend’s layup with 11 seconds left before Tillie collected the inbound pass, drew a quick foul and drained two free throws to seal the Bulldogs’ semifinal win.
The Cagnes-sur-Mer native finished with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds while playing a season- and career-high 36 mintes.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was asked if he’d planned to steadily increase Tillie’s usage as the year progressed, assuring “I don’t know if anything’s really went as planned with Tills this year.”
Few continued: “We kept asking him if he was fine and he was fine. We all can see that he hasn’t been 100% all year, but he’s just shown what a game competitor he is and how good a player he is. To get 19 and 10 on a bad ankle and some other things bothering him. He’s worked hard to stay in shape through all this and again, it’s amazing he’s kept his skill level at such a high level with all the time he’s had to miss.”
If Tillie can give Gonzaga another boost in Tuesday’s WCC title game, he’ll be strongly considered for tournament MVP honors after winning the event’s top individual award in 2018, when he made 13 of 14 3-pointers in the semifinal and championship.
“It’s been a great run in Vegas, always fun to play here,” he said. “The Zag fans are always here, a lot of people coming and the atmoshpere is just different.”
Just like Tillie’s game in Vegae, injuries or not.
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