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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga weathers ‘a serious storm,’ pulls away from shorthanded Loyola Marymount for 91-74 win

LOS ANGELES – It took the better part of 32 minutes, but Gonzaga finally shook off a feisty Loyola Marymount squad that suited up just six scholarship players due to multiple injuries.

Clinging to a one-point lead, Gonzaga rattled off 15 consecutive points and closed with a 19-3 spurt to pull away for a 91-74 West Coast Conference victory Thursday at Gersten Pavilion.

The Lions, who gave GU’s defense fits most of the game, went scoreless for 6 minutes and 26 seconds in the decisive stretch that saw the Zags extend a 72-71 lead to an 87-71 advantage with 2:06 remaining.

Before Gonzaga’s strong closing kick, it was pretty much the Will Johnston show as LMU’s junior guard nearly kept pace with the Zags’ productive offense by himself.

Johnston, who didn’t score and missed all five of his shot attempts in Gonzaga’s 92-58 blowout win two weeks ago in Spokane, poured in 33 points – the most against the Zags since Alabama’s Brandon Miller scored 36 last season – and seven 3-pointers.

But the 6-foot-3 Australian native didn’t score in the final 9:20 as the Zags took control.

“We actually strung together some stops at two different spots in the second half and that’s what did it,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We ran into a hot shooter and he was feeling it. We had a bunch of different guys on him, and he was torching all of them.

“We weathered a serious storm and got out of here with a win, that’s the bottom line. I felt like our ball pressure was a lot better, we got after them much better and we were way more proactive instead of reactive.”

Gonzaga’s offense did most of the heavy lifting while its defense had numerous stretches where it lost track of shooters and cutters. Gonzaga (19-6, 9-2 WCC) has scored 96, 89 and 91 points in a three-game winning streak after falling 64-62 to Saint Mary’s.

The Zags moved in front 66-54 only to see Johnston bury two 3-pointers to bring LMU within 70-69. GU led 72-71 when Anton Watson swatted Justice Hill’s shot in the lane, and Ryan Nembhard converted with a transition layup.

Watson hit a reverse layup, Graham Ike connected inside and Nolan Hickman made a 3-pointer off Ike’s kick-out pass. Gregg, Nembhard and Hickman added buckets as GU’s lead swelled to 87-71.

“Honestly, just buckling down on defense,” Hickman said. “I know I say that a lot, but that’s what we take pride in on defense and making sure every shot is tough.”

Ike scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half, and Hickman added 22 points and four 3-pointers. Nembhard finished with 17 points and 11 assists, one shy of his season high. Gregg had 15 points, three 3s and seven rebounds. Watson added a double-double with 13 points, 11 boards, three steals and two blocks.

The Zags made 10 of 20 3-pointers – LMU was even better at 11 of 20 – for their second-highest shooting percentage of the season (12 of 22, 54.5% vs. USC).

“Our offense was great all night, that’s what won the game for us,” Few said. “If that would have went dry, we would have been in serious trouble. We were good on offensively in both halves. We shot very well from the perimeter. It was more of a defensive problem.”

Gonzaga dominated the boards 31-21, including 12-8 on the offensive glass. That added up to a 23-6 advantage in second-chance points. Watson grabbed seven offensive rebounds, and Ike had three.

“Anytime we can get some of those extra possession it’s great,” Ike said. “Everybody was crashing hard, and it just makes a big difference in the game.”

Johnston torched the Zags with 22 first-half points. Gonzaga led most of the way, stretching it to 31-22 after a Hickman 3-pointer, but the Lions moved ahead 44-43 on a Justin Wright 3-pointer – one of the team’s eight first-half 3-pointers.

Gonzaga took a 47-44 edge on putback baskets by Ike and Gregg, but Johnston drained a midrange jumper just before the buzzer to cut GU’s lead to 47-46 at half.

Neither team came up with many defensive stops in the opening half. LMU hit 58% from the field while the Zags were at 51.6%.