PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Challenged by Portland to open conference play, top-ranked Gonzaga leaned on the experience and leadership of Killian Tillie.
Tillie had 22 points, Corey Kispert added 18 and the Bulldogs rallied from a second-half deficit to beat Portland 85-72 on Thursday night for their 12th straight victory over the Pilots.
“I tried to tell them, `We’re good, we’ve been like that before. We’ve just got to answer. We have to get the crowd going and get ourselves going with hustle plays on the floor,'” Tillie said about his team falling behind at halftime. “And we did that.”
The senior from France scored 18 points in the second half.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Tillie’s leadership calms the team, even though Tillie has been slowed by injuries again this season. After the game, his left ankle was wrapped in ice.
“Tillie’s leadership has been great,” Few said. “He’s really been fighting a lot of things, but his leadership has been spectacular, his toughness has been spectacular, and just his ability to calmly make plays.”
Ryan Woolridge had 15 points for Gonzaga (15-1), which began West Coast Conference play with its seventh straight win. The Bulldogs’ lone loss this season came in the Bahamas on Nov. 29 to Michigan.
It was the fifth consecutive loss for Portland (8-8, 0-1). JoJo Walker led the Pilots with 15 points.
The Bulldogs entered as the highest-scoring team in the nation, averaging 88.5 points per game, but the Pilots surprisingly took a 42-35 lead into halftime, stunning the sizable contingent of Zags fans at the Chiles Center.
A 16-0 run early in the second half gave the lead back to Gonzaga, which led by as many as 18.
“Obviously, they’re the No. 1 team in the nation. Having the chance to host them in our building, (it was) a pretty special opportunity for us and I thought our guys in the first half did a great job of stepping up to the challenge,” Portland coach Terry Porter said. “But in the second half they just turned it up, we just started getting loose with the ball, start turning over and some intangibles, some injured players, and that allowed them to get back in and allowed them to build a lead.”
Gonzaga jumped out to an 18-7 lead early on Kispert’s 3-pointer, but the Pilots closed the gap to 19-18 on Walker’s 3.
Theo Akwuba’s layup and consecutive baskets from Quincy Ferebee gave the Pilots a 24-21 lead with 8:43 left in the opening half.
Portland stretched it to 32-27 following Isaiah White’s 3-pointer, and the Pilots’ bench celebrated wildly when Walker’s fast-break layup fell to make it 34-29.
The Pilots shot 6 of 8 on 3-pointers in the first half, while Gonzaga was 2 for 10 from the perimeter. The teams finished with eight 3-pointers apiece in the end.
The Bulldogs closed the gap early in the second half on Woolridge’s layup and 3-pointer to pull to 47-46. Tillie’s layup and dunk gave Gonzaga back the lead at 50-47. Tillie’s free throws capped the 16-0 run, which made it 55-47.
Tillie’s 3-pointer extended Gonzaga’s lead to 67-55. Five Zags finished in double figures.
“Listen, Portland, they did a good job, man. They took it to us in every facet of the game,” Few said. “They played harder than us, they were way tougher than we were, and they were executing better and stepping up and making tough shots and making free throws, and we weren’t. They deserve a lot of credit for that.”
Gonzaga: Few has lost just twice to the Pilots. … Kispert led all scorers at halftime with 11 points. … The Bulldogs came in as the only team in the country with six players averaging in double figures. … Gonzaga went 16-0 in conference play last season. … Gonzaga alum and current Portland Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins was among the Bulldogs fans at the game. Afterward, the team applauded the crowd from the floor.
Portland: The Pilots’ last win in the series was 82-73 on Jan. 9, 2014, in Portland. … It was the first time a No. 1-ranked team has visited the Chiles Center, which opened in 1984. … The Pilots have already bested the team’s seven wins last season.
Gonzaga: The Zags return home to play Pepperdine on Saturday.
Portland: The Pilots host San Francisco on Saturday.
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