March 27, 2015
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Montrezl Harrell is not ready for the end of his college career at Louisville just yet. Anton Gill helped make sure it continues at least one more game.
Harrell scored 24 points, Gill keyed a late-game surge with seven points off the bench, and Louisville beat North Carolina State, 75-65, on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
"We don't want to go home," said Harrell, a junior who plans to enter the NBA Draft. "We took our bumps and bruises throughout the season, but we came together at the right time. Everything just gelled at the right time."
Louisville (27-8), the fourth seed in the East and seeking to make its third Final Four in four years, will play either No. 3 seed Oklahoma or seventh-seeded Michigan State in the East final on Sunday. The Sooners and Spartans played in Friday's nightcap in the Carrier Dome.
After toppling top-seeded Villanova, North Carolina State (22-14), the eighth seed, saw its postseason run end against a team that refused to quit.
"Late in the game they made some plays there that were the difference," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "He (Gill) made a couple of tough shots there. I thought it was that little stretch that gave them the cushion, and it was the difference in the game."
Louisville wasn't given much chance of playing in late March after it lost two of three entering the NCAA Tournament, but gritty wins over UC Irvine and Northern Iowa had the Cardinals brimming with confidence.
"I said, 'You're going to get your opportunity, son.' He went in and basically won the game for us."
Guard Terry Rozier had 17 points and a career-high 14 rebounds and freshman guard Quentin Snider added 14 points for the Cardinals.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has a 12-1 record in Sweet 16 games, 6-1 with the Cardinals.
Trevor Lacey led the Wolfpack with 18 points, while Ralston Turner had 12 and Kyle Washington 11.
Speedy guard Anthony "Cat" Barber, the spark of the Wolfpack's attack, finished with eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, only briefly getting untracked early in the second half.
Before the game, Pitino promised a surprise and Gill delivered. Gill, who averaged 9.5 minutes and 2.4 points during the season, hit a runner and a 3 from the right corner in a span of a minute as Louisville regained the lead late in a seesaw game. He followed with a tough baseline drive through traffic for a 62-57 lead with 3:33 left.
"Anton and I had an interesting conversation the other day," Pitino said. "I said, 'You're going to get your opportunity, son.' He went in and basically won the game for us."
And he did it against his hometown team.
"It's kind of weird. I didn't really realize we were playing N.C. State," Gill said. "We've been so focused on what we need to do as a team. It's funny how things work."
After Gill's drive, Lacey missed and Rozier stormed back on a fast break, his off-balance shot caroming in off the back of the iron as Turner committed a foul. Rozier calmly made the free throw to complete a three-point play for a 65-57 lead with 3:05 left.
Harrell's driving layup with 1:41 to go boosted the lead to 67-57 and that effectively put an end to the Wolfpack's postseason run.
"That stretch right there, they had some separation right at that point of the game," Gottfried said. "That's what the game's about."
The Wolfpack's bigs faltered repeatedly inside as Louisville outscored N.C. State 40-24 in the paint and finished 27 of 54 from the field. State's BeeJay Anya, Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman combined to shoot 4 of 14 and registered just two blocks, two fewer than the Cardinals.
Before the start of the second half, Gottfried pulled Barber aside at the bench, put his arm around his neck and gave him a pep talk before tapping him on the rear end. Held scoreless in the first half, Barber responded by draining two 3-pointers to boost the Wolfpack's lead to 39-31.
Unfazed, Louisville responded with a 16-2 run to regain the lead. Snider hit a 3 from the right wing just seconds after Mangok Mathiang had stuffed Abu at the rim and two free throws by Wayne Blackshear put the Cardinals up 47-41 with 12:58 left.
Determined to keep its storybook run going, the Wolfpack rallied again. Lacey's 3 from the top of the key gave them a 54-53 lead with 7:15 left.
N.C. State rallied from 16 points down in the second half against LSU and won by a point on Anya's basket with 0.1 on the clock, then imposed its will on Villanova.
They were unable to duplicate that performance against the Cardinals, who limited N.C. State to 38.3 percent shooting (23 of 60).
N.C. State: The Wolfpack were wildly inconsistent all season. They handed Duke its first loss of the season, but also lost by double digits to Clemson. They went from not winning consecutive games for more than two months — State went 6-10 from mid-December to mid-February — to closing the season with five wins in six games, something they hadn't done in 27 years.
Louisville: The Cardinals have won seven of their last eight regional semifinal games. ... Pitino moved to 53-17 in the tournament, tying Syracuse's Jim Boeheim among active coaches in tournament wins. ... It was the 21st Sweet 16 appearance and a school-record fourth straight for Louisville, which has made two of the past three Final Fours, winning the title in 2013.
N.C. State: Season over.
Louisville: Michigan State on Sunday in East Regional final.