SPOKANE — Sam Dower Jr. made certain a surprise visitor didn’t steal the thunder on his Senior Night.
The Gonzaga forward scored 25 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in his final home game to lead the Bulldogs to an 86-67 victory over Loyola Marymount on Saturday night, clinching at least tie for the West Coast Conference regular-season championship.
Brigham Young’s 60-57 comeback victory over Saint Mary’s helped Gonzaga in that department, leaving both those teams four games behind the Bulldogs (23-4, 13-1 WCC) in the standings with four to play. It’s Gonzaga’s 13th regular-season title in the last 14 seasons.
“To be 23-4 — we might have had three (other) groups that have had that record at this point,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “And to also clinch at least a (tie for) the league title in the second week of February is quite an accomplishment. They need to enjoy it and feel good about it.”
There were nothing but good feelings all around after Gonzaga finished undefeated at home for the first time since 2006, even if overmatched Loyola Marymount (11-16, 3-12) made the Bulldogs work for it.
The evening got a big emotional boost from the return of Kelly Olynyk to take part in the Senior Night ceremony. Olynyk bypassed his senior year to enter last summer’s NBA draft, becoming the No. 1 pick of the Boston Celtics. He played in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans on Friday night before flying to Spokane.
He surprised his former teammates by turning up at Saturday afternoon’s shoot-around practice, after texting Dower that he’d planned to stay in New Orleans for Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.
“I saw this guy at half-court and I go, ‘What?’ ” Dower said. “I was so happy to see him. Getting the crowd into it by having him back made everybody happy.”
But the Bulldogs couldn’t relax until Dower took over inside midway through the second half, scoring 14 straight Gonzaga points after the Lions, who trailed 45-31 at halftime, had pulled within nine.
“We have no answer for Dower,” said LMU coach Max Good, who has just three undersized post players among his seven healthy scholarship athletes. “We didn’t at our place and we didn’t here. I guess we need to play a box and chaser — and put the box on him.”
Anthony Ireland had 23 points and freshmen Gabe Levin and Evan Payne 17 each for Loyola Marymount, which was outrebounded 40-25 and outscored 22-4 in second-chance points. The Lions have dropped 12 of their last 13 games.
Ireland became the school’s No. 3 career scorer with 2,077 points behind Hank Gathers (2,490) and Terrell Lowery (2,201).
Kevin Pangos added 17 points, Gary Bell 14 and Przemek Karnowski 11 for the Bulldogs, whose 24 consecutive victories at McCarthey Athletic Center is the fourth longest current NCAA Division I home-court winning streak. The Bulldogs have won 28 consecutive WCC home games.