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Gonzaga uses second half surge to knock off USF 71-54

That was really bad and then got really good.

NCAA Basketball: San Francisco at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If ever there was a game that was a tale of two halves, it was this one, as the Gonzaga Bulldogs flipped the switch after halftime to extend their conference winning streak with a 71-54 win over the San Francisco Dons.

Killian Tillie returned to the lineup to deliver a team-high 22 points (10-13 FG) and 9 rebounds. Filip Petrusev finished strong with 16 points and 7 rebounds. Ryan Woolridge stuffed the box score with 12 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals (and 5 turnovers), and Corey Kispert rounded out the double figure scoring with 11 points thanks to a three-ball in the dying seconds of the game that put the cherry on top of a big second half for Gonzaga.

Charles Minlend scored 22 for USF, and Khalil Shabazz posted 13 points with 6 steals. Jimbo Lull grabbed 14 rebounds.

Even with Tillie back in action, the first half saw Gonzaga repeat its dismal performance at USF three weeks ago. Neither team scored inside the first two minutes of the game, and while the Zags did eventually get on the board, they didn’t manage to do it very often en route to 22 first half points. TWENTY-TWO!

The nation’s #1 offense took the night off on Thursday, and the squad that replaced it is not one that is welcome back around these parts. The Zags seemingly wilted in the face of USF’s defensive intensity, coughing up the ball with reckless abandon as if the Monstars had stolen their powers. When the Zags did manage to hold on to the ball, far too often possessions would end with half-hearted and low percentage off-balance shots. It wasn’t great.

USF gained confidence as Gonzaga’s offense floundered, and put together a 12-0 run in the middle of the half to take control of the game and leave the Kennel crowd stunned.

If there was any silver lining to be had from the first half, it was that USF didn’t enter the break with a bigger lead than the 31-22 scoreline that it achieved despite shooting 5-12 from the three-point line and winning the turnover battle. In fact, it was kind of miraculous that Gonzaga was still in the game considering it was thoroughly outmatched in terms of effort and intensity.

The manner in which the Zags opened the second half was going to be crucial to their comeback attempts, and in that respect they did not disappoint.

Gonzaga forced USF into turnovers on its first three possessions and capitalized at the other end to close the gap. Thanks to their increased defensive entity, and a cessation of the soul crushing turnovers that marred the first half, the Zags opened the half with an 24-2 run to regain the lead and energize the crowd.

USF’s first basket of the second half did not come until more than six minutes had elapsed, and was sandwiched between a pair of thunderous dunks from Tillie that changed the entire atmosphere in the building. While the Zags appeared to be rolling to a blowout after Tillie’s second dunk made it a 46-33 game, credit to the Dons for not packing it in despite coughing up another halftime lead to Gonzaga. USF cut the lead as close as seven points with just under four minutes to play, but they couldn’t walk out of the gym with a win.

Now that the Zags survived another scare from USF, they can turn their full attention to BYU on Saturday in an environment that is unlikely to let them get away with the Jekyll and Hyde performance we saw in this game.