SPOKANE - Elias Harris is quickly growing comfortable with the college game.
Gonzaga’s sensational newcomer scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds as the No. 15 Bulldogs beat Loyola Marymount, 85-69, on Saturday night.
The freshman from Germany has averaged a double-double in the eight games since Gonzaga’s last defeat, which came against Duke at Madison Square Garden in December.
“I’m getting more and more used to it,” said Harris, a 6-foot-8 forward from Speyer, Germany.
“He’s making really big strides,” coach Mark Few said. “His teammates are becoming more comfortable about finding him.”
Perhaps wary of some projections that Harris could be a first- round NBA draft pick, Few added the player “has a long way to go.”
Harris made 8 of 12 shots and added four assists with only one foul in 37 minutes. He’s averaging 15 points and eight rebounds on the season. Matt Bouldin added 19 points, and Steven Gray 18 for Gonzaga (16-3 overall, 5-0 West Coast Conference), which beat LMU for the 29th time in 31 meetings.
Loyola Marymount (10-11, 1-4), picked to finish last in the conference, shot 53 percent in the first half and had the game tied at 42 at halftime, behind 16 points by Vernon Teel. But the Lions shot just 32 percent in the second half as the Bulldogs pulled away.
Gonzaga scored the first eight points after halftime, including Robert Sacre’s first basket in a game and a half, for a 50-42 lead.
The Lions made only three field goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half. An 11-2 Gonzaga run, featuring a thunderous Sacre dunk and six points by Harris, gave the Zags a 67-51 lead with 10:48 remaining.
Loyola closed to 74-66 on a basket by Tim Diederichs with 6 minutes left, but Gonzaga pulled away at the free-throw line.
“We had much better defense in the second,” Few said. “We rebounded better and held them to under 30 points.”
Teel led the Lions with a career-high 27 points and handed out seven assists, while Drew Viney added 20 points.
Gonzaga shot 51 percent for the game, to 43 percent for LMU, and won the rebound battle, 40-33.
“It’s like walking in a minefield,” LMU coach Max Good said. “When you play against a team like Gonzaga, you get a misstep, something bad is going to happen.”
Good stuck to a zone defense for the entire game.
“I hate the zone, but that’s the only choice we had,” he said. “To match up with their shooters, we had to play a 3-2.”
In the first half, Teel’s long jumper gave the Lions a 15-14 lead with a little more than 12 minutes to go before Harris put Gonzaga back on top with a three-point play. But Kevin Young hit a 3-pointer and followed it immediately with an alley-oop dunk for a 20-19 LMU lead.
Bouldin countered with consecutive 3-pointers, and the Zags clung to that lead until a late 9-2 run by the Lions tied it at halftime. The Lions hurt themselves with 6-for-15 free-throw shooting in the opening half.
Loyola has not beaten a ranked team since the 1990 NCAA tournament, when the Lions beat Alabama to reach the round of eight.
Gonzaga is 69-4 in the McCarthey Athletic Center since it opened in 2004. The Bulldogs have won 21 consecutive games versus WCC opponents.
Loyola Marymount, coming off a season when it won three games, has clearly made strides.
“We got beat up here last year 91-54,” Good said. “It was never a game.”