The Gonzaga Bulldogs closed out the regular season in style and gave their friends and families a lot to smile about with a fun 86-76 win on Senior Night against the Saint Mary’s Gaels.
Filip Petrusev put together a dominant second half effort en route to a team-leading 27 points (11-13 FT), with Corey Kispert not too far behind with 20 points thanks to some hot three-point shooting (4-5 3PA). Killian Tillie closed out his Kennel career with a vintage all-around performance including 13 points (6-8 FG), 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Joel Ayayi finished strong with 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists, and the senior backcourt duo of Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge added 6 points apiece while trading off defensive duties on Saint Mary’s Jordan Ford, who led all scorers with 28 points.
Gonzaga didn’t replicate the near-perfect first half that it produced in Moraga three weeks ago. Repeating that performance was a near-impossible task, especially since Saint Mary’s was dead set on not getting embarrassed again in front of an ESPN audience.
Instead of the one-sided affair we saw earlier, the Gaels came out firing and willing to play a more uptempo game that made for an entertaining and competitive opening half of basketball. We saw a different Saint Mary’s offense in this game, as the Gaels played aggressively off the dribble to get into the heart of Gonzaga’s defense and create plenty of good scoring opportunities.
The Zags were up to the task in keeping up with the visitors, with the duo of Tillie and Kispert setting the tone early by wreaking havoc against Randy Bennett’s defense. Tillie made the most of his final competitive appearance in The Kennel, demonstrating his inside-out prowess and showcasing his versatile skillset. Kispert went on a mini-run of his own, erasing his struggles from seven days prior with lights out shooting.
Though the teams continued to exchange baskets in a back-and-forth first half that resulted in a 34-34 deadlock at the break, it felt like Gonzaga was going to find another gear in the second half. Whether it was the emotional power of senior night, Rui Hachimura’s smiling face in the crowd, or the fact that the Zags still had more to tap into with the backcourt only combining for 6 points in the first half, the second half just felt like it would yield good things for the home team.
While the Gaels made the first two field goals of the second half, the Gonzaga offensive machine finally got rolling led by the red-hot Kispert who scored 11 of Gonzaga’s first 18 points of the half. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Petrusev flexed his muscles with a dominant stretch midway through the half against an overmatched SMC interior that had no answers in the post. Petrusev went on to score 9 of Gonzaga’s next 11 points, but just as the Zags looked poised to break the game wide open with a 65-51 lead, the Gaels made one final push to keep things interesting.
Ford and Fitts, who had been shackled for much of the half, came alive and combined to cut the deficit down to a workable 73-68 margin with just under five minutes to play. But their two-man show would not be as enough, and Saint Mary’s would get no closer, as Gilder and Ayayi teamed up to shut the door on the Gaels and ensure a victorious celebration for the final time in The Kennel this season.
Bring on the postseason.