After three consecutive seasons that featured bitter losses on Senior Night, the Gonzaga Bulldogs took care of business and sent off the senior class of Johnathan Williams, Silas Melson, and Brian Pete with a happy final memory inside The Kennel with a 81-67 win over the Pepperdine Waves.
Johnathan Williams made the most of his last competitive appearance at the McCarthey Athletic Center, picking up his sixth consecutive double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, a feat that is unmatched in the Mark Few era. Silas Melson, nearing the end of his own strong career where he’s been a key contributor on some of Gonzaga’s best teams ever, scored 9 points with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Killian Tillie and Josh Perkins scored 15 points apiece, while Zach Norvell chipped in 13 points off the bench as he ceded his spot in the starting lineup to Brian Pete.
With an emotional night on tap, Pepperdine didn’t make things any easier for Gonzaga as the Waves put together a gutsy effort in the wake of news earlier in the week that head coach Marty Wilson would be terminated at the end of the season. Freshman point guard, Colbey Ross, had a great game with 21 points (8-14 FG) and 6 assists.
Manager turned walkon, Brian Pete, took advantage of his opportunity to start on senior night with some aggressive offensive play, making sure to get off a trifecta of shots including a pretty floater down the middle of the lane before giving way to Norvell. The bucket was Pete’s second career basket.
As Gonzaga began to settle in to the game, it found plenty of room on the perimeter as the Waves were intent to play a compressed zone to take away the interior. With the Zags threatening to blow open the game, Pepperdine relented and reverted to a rugged brand of man-defense that managed to slow down the Zags for long stretches of the game.
With the Bulldogs failing to separate after a hot start, the Waves seized the opportunity and put together a strong stretch to close the first half and enter the break with a manageable 39-32 deficit. Ross and junior forward Darnell Dunn scored nine points apiece for Pepperdine during the first 20 minutes and helped keep the game close.
Gonzaga had to be disappointed with the quality of its play for the first half, and began to make amends immediately out of the break with some scorching shooting that included a trio of 3’s. Pepperdine, to its credit, didn’t back off and continued to keep the Zags within arm’s reach thanks to some good shooting of its own. Ross continued to flummox Gonzaga’s defense regardless of whether it was in man-to-man or zone, and keyed a run for the Waves that brought them to as close as two points.
Flashbacks from the last three years of Senior Nights began to surge to the forefront as Pepperdine’s confidence grew and its three-pointers continued to fall. At long last, however, the Gonzaga defense tightened up and held Pepperdine scoreless over a crucial three-minute stretch late in the second half to gain some breathing room before the offense finally landed the knockout punch in the final two minutes thanks to a Williams dunk and Tillie three on back-to-back possessions.
Strange things happen on Senior Night, as we were made keenly aware over the last few seasons. It’s a tough day for players and students alike as they battle with the emotions of the final chance to make memories in such a special building. Fortunately, on this night, things went the right way and now the path is clear for Gonzaga to finish the regular season strong and clinch another WCC title.