Anton Gill is safely in Nebraska.
That doesn’t make N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried feel any better about Thursday’s important ACC home game with Louisville.
It was Gill, a seldom-used backup guard from Raleigh, who scored seven points in a second-half flurry to propel the Cardinals to a 75-65 win over the Wolfpack last March in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
“They’ve replaced him and they’ve got some good players,” Gottfried said.
A revamped Louisville (12-2, 1-0 ACC) lineup features a graduate transfer from Drexel (leading scorer Damion Lee) and one from Cleveland State (top 3-point shooter Trey Lewis). The productive duo has helped offset the loss of stars Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier and the Cardinals enter the game ranked No. 16 in the AP top 25 and No. 29 in the RPI.
We’ve got a lot of room to grow. This (the Lousiville game) gives us a great opportunity to do so.
NC State coach Mark Gottfried
Gill, who started his high school career at Ravenscroft in Raleigh, earned his own spot in “N.C. State Stuff” history with seven points after the Wolfpack took a 54-53 lead with 7:12 left in the game.
Gill, who averaged 9.4 minutes and 2.5 points per game last season, didn’t score in the five games leading up to the Sweet 16 matchup with N.C. State and didn’t score in the Cards’ subsequent NCAA loss to Michigan State. The day after Louisville’s NCAA exit, Gill decided to transfer and ultimately ended up at Nebraska, where is sitting out this season.
N.C. State (10-4, 0-1) has bigger worries than fluky, yet painful, NCAA losses. The Wolfpack had a 14-point lead in the second half at Virginia Tech last Saturday and wound up losing 73-68 in overtime.
After Thursday’s home opener with Louisville, the Wolfpack will go on the road three times in the next four games, only to return home for a matchup with No. 14 Duke.
In other words, the season could go sideways in a hurry if the Wolfpack, already on tenuous footing at No. 82 in the RPI, can’t recover from the Virginia Tech loss. Sophomore wing Caleb Martin was confident the Wolfpack could learn from the wasted opportunity at Virginia Tech.
“That just shows how important it is to finish the game,” Martin said. “We have to make sure we end up closing out the game.”
Gottfried predicted his team would react well to the loss. Virginia Tech’s subsequent win over No. 4 Virginia on Monday, also helped allay some of the panic of losing to last year’s last-place ACC team.
“It probably made them all feel a little bit better, to be honest with you,” Gottfried said of Virginia Tech’s 70-68 win over the Cavaliers.
With the ACC schedule about to crank up, and injured guard Terry Henderson still not close to getting back on the court, Gottfried said his focus has been on getting more consistency out of his healthy players.
Junior guard Cat Barber leads the ACC in scoring (22.9 points per game) but a consistent second option hasn’t emerged.
Martin (12.2 ppg) and freshman guard Maverick Rowan (12.6 ppg), who chose N.C. State over Louisville, have both had big games this season but haven’t been able to help Barber on a night in and night out basis.
Martin said the Wolfpack still “owes” Louisville one for last year’s NCAA tournament loss. The Wolfpack can’t change the ending to that season but a win could help push this season in the right direction.
“We’ve got a lot of room to grow,” Gottfried said. “This gives us a great opportunity to do so.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio