Tillie's presence boosts Zags ahead of Baylor matchup

Gonzaga entered the NCAA Tournament with the nation's top scoring margin, 23.8 points per game.

That figure went up after the Bulldogs buried Fairleigh Dickinson 87-49 in the first round of the West Region in Salt Lake City on Thursday, when they found a "new" offensive weapon for the postseason.

Top-seeded Gonzaga will go for its fifth consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16 in a Saturday second-round game against ninth-seeded Baylor, which used a 3-point barrage to fend off Syracuse 78-69 on Thursday night.

Gonzaga's talented 6-foot-10 junior Killian Tillie, who had been limited to 11 games because of two foot injuries, played his best game of the season against Fairleigh Dickinson. He scored a season-high 17 points, highlighted by a thunderous, running one-handed dunk over two players.

"That was really crazy," said teammate Brandon Clarke, a junior forward. "I don't think he's had a dunk yet this season, and I've been waiting on it personally. And that one was a crazy dunk. ...

"That shows how bouncy he is, plus he can shoot threes. Floaters, too. So he's a really, really tough player to deal with.

"Obviously if he can do that, we will be a really tough team to beat."

Tillie, considered to have first-round NBA draft potential, is an inside-outside big man who can rotate with the dynamite starting duo of junior Rui Hachimura and Clarke. That trio combined to make 20 of 31 shots and score 50 points against Fairleigh Dickinson.

The Bulldogs (31-3) said they got their heads right after losing 60-47 to Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference tournament title game.

"I thought we kind of let the bad memories of the last time out go and got back to playing the Gonzaga way," coach Mark Few said. "That team right there is the one I was able to coach all year."

Gonzaga's frontcourt will be a tough matchup for Baylor, which possesses toughness but isn't particularly tall after losing forward Tristan Clark to a season-ending knee injury Jan. 8. The Bears transformed into more of a 3-point shooting team after Clark's injury.

That was on full display vs. Syracuse as Baylor (20-13) drilled a season-high 16 3-pointers in 34 attempts.

"We knew we had to make shots, and we got good looks," Bears coach Scott Drew said. "The key for us is playing with joy. When we share that ball and we put others first ... we're in great shape."

Point guard Makai Mason hit 4 of 10 from 3-point range en route to a team-high 22 points. He has been playing through a foot injury, which seemed to limit him after he scored 16 in the first half. He said after the game he was in a "decent amount" of pain.

"But it doesn't matter when you step on the court," he told truTV. "No one is caring about your injuries. You've got to give it all you've got. Each and every guy did that tonight."

Mason, a graduate transfer from Yale, thrives on the NCAA tourney stage. He scored 31 in the 2016 first round, leading 12th-seeded Yale to an upset of ... Baylor.

Mason likely will need more magic if the Bears are to find a way past Gonzaga, which has the nation's most efficient offense, according to KenPom.com -- and that was without Tillie for two-thirds of the season.

Tillie returned from a partially torn plantar fascia to play in the team's two games in the WCC tourney.

"He had a bad run of luck there," Few said in his postgame press conference. "It's awesome, awesome to see -- and you guys can all see if you've forgot, he's a hell of a player."

--Field Level Media

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