East Regional: Gill's surprising spurt powers Louisville to Elite Eight

After not scoring for nearly a month, the sophomore helped the Cardinals pull away in the second half.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said he had a conversation with reserve guard Anton Gill earlier this week and told the sophomore he was “mentally in a funk.” 

But instead of giving Pitino lip service, Gill responded with a promise that he would be ready to play. So when Pitino was forced to go to his bench in the second half of Friday’s East Regional at the Carrier Dome against North Carolina State, he chose Gill over Shaqquan Aaron at the three-spot. 

Photo: Bryan Cereijo
Monrezl Harrell (No. 24) chipped in 24 points to help Louisville overcome an early N.C. State lead.

Then Gill delivered on his promise in the biggest way. 

After scoring only 18 points over the course of 15 games since Jan. 25, Gill scored seven points during a crucial 2:18 stretch in the second half to help the Cardinals coast to a 75-65 victory over the Wolfpack and advance to Sunday’s round-of-eight game. 

“He went in there and basically won the game for us with his two big plays,” Pitino said. “I’m really happy for him. When a guy doesn’t get his minutes and playing time and still shows a great attitude, for him to have this moment is awesome.” 

With the Cardinals down one with six minutes remaining, Gill converted on a tough drive to the basket where the ball bounced all over the rim and finally in. 

He then followed with a beautiful arcing three on Louisville’s next possession and capped his spurt with a nice turnaround in the low post to put his team ahead for good. 

Surprisingly, Gill is from Raleigh, N.C., and was recruited by N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried in high school. He said the school was on his short list of candidates, but he eventually felt more comfortable at Louisville. 

“It’s kind of weird,” Gill said. “I didn’t even realize we were playing N.C. State, my hometown team, until someone asked me about it yesterday because we’ve been so focused on what we needed to do as a team. It’s funny how things work.” 

His spurt couldn’t have come at a better time, as both teams spent the first 34 minutes trading haymaker scoring runs. Behind the dominating inside presence of Montrezl Harrell, the Cardinals stormed out to an early six-point lead in the first half. 

The Wolfpack countered with timely outside shooting from Trevor Lacey and Anthony Barber. The latter drained two triples out of the halftime break to give N.C. State its largest lead of eight points. 

But Harrell was a monster, continuously posting up around the rim to help the Cardinals claw back and set up Gill’s heroics. 

Gottfried said his team scouted Gill in preparation for the game and added that one of the best things about March basketball is that the unlikeliest of players can step up and make plays. 

Once Gill did, Gottfried said the Wolfpack was in trouble. 

“Our zone helped us, helped us get back in the game, helped us take the lead,” Gottfried said. “He made a couple tough shots there, and I thought that little stretch right there that gave them that cushion was the difference in the game.” 

Harrell finished with a game-high 24 points and helped Louisville record a 40-24 advantage in the paint. Terry Rozier, despite playing with severe cold symptoms, added 14 rebounds and four assists. 

As a team, Louisville had only five turnovers. 

Gottfried said the disappointing loss doesn’t overshadow a gutsy run by his team during the second half of the season. 

“We’re 5-7 in the ACC and 14-11 overall, and we’re in 11th place,” he said. “We still gotta go to Louisville, to (North) Carolina, to Clemson, to Boston College, and look at where we are now. We played toe-to-toe with Louisville to have a chance to play in the Elite Eight.” 

Meanwhile, Pitino will make his 12th trip to the Elite Eight, putting him behind only Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski on the all-time list. 

Pitino said Louisville spent much of the season trying to prove it can make jump shots, but now is embracing its identity as grind-it-out squad that wins with ball movement. 

Now, it has them on the verge of another trip to championship weekend. 

“I just said, ‘Look guys, do not fall into the trap of trying to match them from the three-point line,’” Pitino said. “Paint touch, low post, deliver, do not try to become something you’re not, and they executed beautifully.”

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