Gonzaga men's basketball emerged with a hard-fought victory Tuesday evening, defeating the Mavericks of UT Arlington 72-66 and moving to 5-0 on the season.
The game's most notable story line was the highly anticipated season debut of senior forward Killian Tillie.
Tillie underwent a procedure on his knee Oct. 3 to address lingering issues, which kept him out of the first four games of the year.
Head coach Mark Few inserted Tillie into the Zags’ starting lineup, replacing freshman forward Anton Watson.
Tillie did not miss a beat in his initial game following surgery, knocking down his first field goal attempt of the season, a 3-pointer, which sent Zags fans into a frenzy in the game’s opening minutes.
Despite Tillie’s 3-pointer to put GU on the board, the team got off to a slow start shooting the ball. The Zags went 12 of 35 from the floor and 3 of 15 beyond the arc in the first half and entered halftime leading 28-27 after trailing much of the opening 20 minutes.
The team’s poor field goal percentage was a testament to the defense executed by UT Arlington. The Mavericks were consistent in getting back in transition, refusing to give up easy shots to the Zags.
Highlights from the first half included the play of redshirt senior guard Admon Gilder, who finished well around the rim and scored six points in the paint. Additionally, Watson provided an emphatic block, continuing his strong defense to begin the season.
The Bulldogs narrowly avoided heading to the locker room facing a deficit thanks to a 7-0 run by redshirt senior guard Ryan Woolridge — capped off by an athletic, buzzer-beating layup.
Sophomore center Filip Petrušev lit a fire under the Zags to start the second half, crashing the offensive glass on consecutive possessions and notching two putback buckets.
The Zags established a lead by converting transition baskets off of turnovers, namely a steal by Gilder and a block from freshman forward Drew Timme.
Timme continued to exhibit his low-post scoring ability, chipping in seven points on 50% shooting, while grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds.
GU appeared to be pulling away when an and-one from Tillie pushed the Bulldogs' lead to 69-56 with just over two minutes remaining.
UT Arlington refused to go down without a fight, however, hitting a number of clutch shots to remain within striking distance. The Mavericks’ resilient offensive attack was led by senior guard Brian Warren, who knocked down shot after shot to keep his team in contention.
The hero for the Zags late in the game was Tillie, who scored seven of his 15 points in the final five minutes of the second half, and GU held on for a 72-66 victory.
The Zags take on the Roadrunners of CSU Bakersfield Saturday at 5 p.m. inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.