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Gonzaga’s bench comes up big in Final Four win

They may not be starters, but you need to know their names

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-South Carolina vs Gonzaga
Gonzaga’s talented reserve trio of Killian Tillie (33), Zach Collins (32) and Silas Melson (0).
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, AZ — In Gonzaga’s 77-73 win over South Carolina in the Final Four on Saturday, the Bulldogs held a 22-14 advantage in bench points.

But their reserves mean so much more than that.

Freshman forward Zach Collins (14 points) set a career high in both rebounds (13) and blocks (six). Junior guard Silas Melson had six points, four rebounds and three assists. And while freshman Killian Tillie scored just two points, they were the clinching free throws in the final seconds.

This performance should come as a surprise to no one.

“If you’ve watched us play you’d realize the rotation is eight,” head coach Mark Few said after the game. “That’s pretty much what we’ve done all year.”

And as he has all year, Few was confident in the three guys coming off the bench.

There’s an experienced veteran in Melson, a McDonald’s all-American in Collins, and a Frenchman in Tillie — because any good Gonzaga unit needs a foreign-born player.

Somewhat fitting, also, is that in Gonzaga’s first Final Four, the program’s first McDonald’s all-American came up big.

As NCAA media coordinator David Worlock pointed out, Collins’ 13 rebounds were the most in a Final Four game since Thomas Robinson of Kansas and Anthony Davis of Kentucky recorded 17 and 16 respectively in 2012. He also became the first freshman to record a double-double in the Final Four since Michigan’s Mitch McGary did so in 2013. And while it was the first double-double of his career, it didn’t come out of nowhere.

The potential one-and-done prospect has led the team in rebounding in 10 games and led the team in scoring in three. Perhaps the only thing surprising about Collins’ day was that he was the first sub into the game.

Melson is normally the first off the bench for the Zags. And while he was second on Saturday, he didn’t wait long to get going. With a pair of threes and a big-time block, Melson was turning some heads while helping the Zags get off to a strong start.

That tweet was sent out midway through the first half.

Nothing new for Melson here, folks. He’s been the team’s leading scorer on two occasions, one of seven Zags who have led the team in scoring. The lone rotation player who hasn’t done so is also the one whose scoring Saturday iced the game.

Tillie pulled down a missed Sindarius Thornwell free throw in the final seconds and was subsequently fouled. When he stepped to the line with two seconds left and his team up by just two points, it had to be the biggest moment of his career.

He’s a 78 percent free throw shooter, though he barely attempts more than one per game. Nerves? Maybe, but they didn’t show as the freshman calmly canned both freebies and stretched the lead to two possessions.

It’s not the deepest bench in college basketball, but it came up big when the lights were brightest.