Cavs’ Gill makes home folks proud
High Point native Anthony Gill partied like it was 1976 with his University of Virginia teammates on the floor of the Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday.
They celebrated and cut down the nets after turning back Duke 72-63 to win the ACC Tournament, securing the program’s second conference championship ever, the other one indeed coming 38 years ago in Landover, Md.
Gill, a 6-8 redshirt sophomore who is a reserve forward, had an impact against the Blue Devils, scoring 12 points — 10 on free throws (which was three more than Duke had). He also had 10 points in the Wahoos’ semifinal win over Pittsburgh and 16 in the quarterfinal victory over Florida State.
The effort in the three games was good enough for selection to the all-tournament second team as chosen by the media.
Given his choice, Gill wouldn’t have minded if he could have stayed behind and traveled the 15 or so miles back home and continued the celebration with the family and friends that donned Cavalier orange and helped cheer him on in person.
“Man, I wish,” Gill said, wearing a big smile in the Virginia locker room as he sat in a chair with a basketball in his lap. “But they are calling for bad weather back at campus. So we have to get on the road as soon as we can. But I wish I could have stayed. Because High Point is the greatest city in the world, I believe.”
Gill has lived in High Point for most of his life. He grew up in the shadow of Oak Hollow Mall and went to middle school at Welborn. But because of a family situation, he went to high school at Charlotte Christian. He began his college career at South Carolina but transferred after his freshman year.
Because of NCAA rules, he had to sit out last year as the Cavaliers finished fourth in the conference at 11-7 and lost in the tourney quarterfinals to N.C. State. Behind a stingy defense this season, UVa won the ACC regular season at 16-2 and proved it was no fluke by storming to the tournament championship.
“We had the heart last year but we just didn’t have the pieces,” Gill said. “Everything has come together. We have depth at every position. If one person falls off, the next person can pick it up.”
Some of the main pieces on Sunday included guard Malcolm Brogdon, who let the Cavs with 25 points and hit six free throws down the stretch; Joe Harris, who added 15 that included a key 3 that turned a three-point lead into six with less than two minutes left; and defensive stopper Akil Mitchell, who scored seven points, grabbed 15 rebounds and made two big plays late.
Mitchell scored on a follow shot that put UVa up three, then stopped Duke’s Jabari Parker and threw a lengthy pass to Harris, who hit the 3 that put the Caves up 64-57.
Gill also was a big reason that Parker, who led the Blue Devils with 23 points, didn’t score after hitting a layup that made it 51-51 with 6:43 to go.
“It was time to pick up our defense at that point,” Gill said. “He went off for a little bit. It was time for us to get back into it. He had to lock them up.”
Gill also did his share as the Cavaliers repeatedly swarmed to the ball. He grabbed seven rebounds, and although he went 1 for 6 in field goal shooting, he got to the free-throw line 17 times.
“He was getting after it, attacking, and he has that ability,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We saw that in practices last year. We knew he’d be important because he could get going that way, and he draws fouls. I said that all year. He just knows how to get contact and draw fouls.
Gill, who came into the game averaging 8.3 points and 3.8 rebounds, was a little bit embarrassed about his seven misses at the line.
“I was joking with my team if I had hit all of my free throws, the game might not have been that close,” Gill said. “It’s part of it, I’ll get in the gym and it will be better next time.”
Gill did it in front of a sizeable cheering section, but was unsure of the number.
“Man, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s too many to count but they were some of the loudest.”
Gill was pleased with the all-tournament nod, but was more pleased with the victory that helped prove the Cavaliers were the best in the league.
“It was great for the recognition but it was better to win,” Gill said. “It was great to win for the UVa fans and Charlottesville and the people in High Point.”
Making it sweeter was being able to it in his backyard, where Gill will have a chance to repeat next season before the tourney moves to Washington, D.C., in what would be his senior season. Reports this week indicated that discussions are underway to move it farther out of Gill’s territory and on to New York City in 2017.
“This was great for me because it’s up the street from my house and all my friends and family and all of High Point, I love it so much,” he said.
Now the Cavaliers move on as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will start their quest for a national championship against Big South tournament champ Coastal Carolina. That game is just a little bit further down the street from High Point in Raleigh.
“We feel good because of our defense,” Gill said sizing up the Cavs’ outlook. “We are going to rely on it until the last game we play. If we keep playing hard on defense, then we are always going to have a chance.”