SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The Gonzaga crowd roared when Killian Tillie was announced in the starting lineup Tuesday night.
It boomed again when Tillie sank a 3-pointer for the Zags’ first points.
“It felt good,” said Tillie, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds as No. 8 Gonzaga held off Texas-Arlington 72-66.
“I needed that 3,” he added.
Ryan Woolridge had 19 points and nine rebounds for Gonzaga (5-0), while Admon Gilder added 15 points and Filip Petrusev had 10.
Tillie sat out much of last season with injuries and missed the first four games of this season while recovering from knee surgery.
“I’m a little tired and out of shape,” Tillie said. “I tried to step up and make some points.”
This proved to be the toughest test of the young season for the Zags.
Texas-Arlington played stout defense and made some big shots at the end to stay close.
“At times we responded well and other times we didn’t,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, pointing to four 3-pointers by Texas-Arlington in the closing minutes.
“We are definitely a work in progress,” Few said after the Bulldogs, one of the best-shooting teams in the country, were held to 39% from the field.
Woolridge, a graduate transfer from North Texas, had his best game as a Bulldog.
“He’s a heck of a competitor,” Few said. “He gives you everything when he is out on the floor.”
Gonzaga has won 26 consecutive home games.
Jabari Narcis scored 16 points for Texas-Arlington (2-3), sinking all five of his 3-point attempts. Brian Warren and David Azore scored 15 points each for the Mavericks, who lost at No. 11 Oregon 67-47 on Sunday.
“We wanted to take away their inside guys and take our chances against their shooters,” Texas-Arlington coach Chris Ogden said. “Very proud of our team.”
“I’ve seen improvement out of these guys every game,” Ogden said. “Tonight we came out and played like we expected to win the game.”
Gonzaga led by two when Texas-Arlington made three straight 3-pointers, two by Narcis, to take a 22-15 lead in the first half. Gonzaga made just six of its first 21 shots (28.6%).
Gonzaga used a 13-5 run to take a 28-27 lead at halftime. Woolridge scored the final seven points for Gonzaga, including a layup at the buzzer for the lead.
The pace picked up in the second half, with Gonzaga leading 40-37 in the opening minutes behind six points from Woolridge.
Gonzaga went on a 13-4 run for a 53-41 lead, but six straight points brought the Mavericks within 53-47 with 8 minutes left.
Five points by Woolridge helped push Gonzaga’s lead to 59-49.
The Mavericks got within 69-63 behind eight points by Azore, but they were forced to foul as time ran down.
Gonzaga made just 5 of 22 from 3-point range (22.7%). Texas-Arlington made 11 of 26 (42.3%).
“We have guys that can hit the 3,” Ogden said.
Gonzaga won the rebound battle 45-33 and outscored the Mavericks in the paint 36-12. The Mavericks blocked five shots.
Texas-Arlington: The Mavericks average just 69 points per game, 26 fewer than Gonzaga. They allow 64 ppg. The Mavericks are ninth in the nation with 137 3-point attempts. They beat the Bulldogs in their first meeting in 1992.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs are one of six teams in the nation to start the past four seasons 4-0. Gonzaga came in second in the nation in field goal shooting at 56.6% and in victory margin at 35.5 points. Tuesday night was the 15th anniversary of the opening of the McCarthey Athletic Center, and the Bulldogs are 210-15 at home, with every game sold-out.
Texas-Arlington plays at Arkansas Tech on Sunday.
Gonzaga plays Cal State-Bakersfield on Saturday.