No. 3 Gonzaga got all it could handle at the Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, California, on Thursday, as Pepperdine took the Zags down to the wire.
“It was real intense,” Gonzaga guard Silas Melson said of the 78-76 win on Ferrall on the Bench. “The building’s real small, but the fans, they pack the house. They really got their team (fired) up. They really brought their all to us.”
Gonzaga led, 40-31, at halftime, but Pepperdine caught fire in the second half, outscoring the Zags 45-38.
If not for Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga might have lost. Wiltjer scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, and freshman Domantas Sabonis had 18 points on a perfect 9-for-9 shooting night from the floor. He also had a career-high 12 rebounds, as Gonzaga won its 27th in a row over the Waves.
Jett Raines (22 points) and Stacy Davis (21 points) led the way for Pepperdine, shooting a combined 16-of-25 (64 percent) from the floor and leading the Waves’ second-half surge.
“We expected it,” Melson said. “Being No. 3 in the country, everybody’s going to try to do that to us. We just got to be ready.”
Melson, to his credit, finished with 11 points and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor, including 2-of-2 from three-point range. He did miss some free throws, but he wasn’t alone, as Gonzaga shot a woeful 14-of-33 (42.4 percent) from the foul line.
“We all stunk it up from the free-throw line today,” Melson said.
Interestingly enough, a traffic delay almost prevented the Zags from making it to the game on time. They arrived at the arena just 25 minutes before tip-off, but Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson agreed to delay the start of the game by 33 minutes. Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who won his 200th conference game Thursday, was very appreciative of that.
Pepperdine opened the second half with a 15-7 run and came within one point three times. In the end, though, the Zags had an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points and an 11-0 advantage on fast-break points to atone for their struggles from the foul line.
Gonzaga (17-1) has now won 10 straight games since falling to then-No. 3, now-No. 10 Arizona, 66-63, in overtime on Dec. 6. The Zags have beaten UCLA, BYU and Portland, among others, during their winning streak.
The Zags ranks in the top 10 in the country in scoring offense (82.4 points per game), assists (17.4) and field-goal percentage (53.0 percent). They play at Loyola Marymount (5-13) this Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, before returning home for a game against St. Mary’s (14-3) on Jan. 22 at 11 p.m. ET.
“We’re really looking forward to the St. Mary’s game,” Melson said. “It’s (been) a heck of an experience (so far), especially for me being a freshman. Being the hunted (in my) first year in college, hopefully (I can learn and) mature from it.”