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As clock winds down, Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie shows grace under pressure

Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie made two clutch free throws that finished off Gonzaga’s 77-73 win over South Carolina in the national semifinals. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Killian Tillie hung around the back end of the key. He looked down at the floor, took a breath and looked up at the scoreboard. The Zags were leading by only two, and Tillie needed to make the first shot to stop South Carolina.

Tille had just drawn a foul on the opposite end of the court when he pulled down the rebound after South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell missed his second shot at the line. The foul sent Tillie to the line for one free-throw attempt and a bonus shot.

The freshman forward hadn’t felt this kind of pressure in a Zags uniform, but Tillie admitted he liked the feeling. He loves feeling the nerves, loves feeling the intensity inside the arena in those final seconds, and he loves the fact that he has the ball in his hands for that last crucial shot.

“Of course I like it. I like to be on the floor and having shots to win the game. I really like it,” Tillie said. “You have a little pressure, but … this is what you have to do.”

So Tillie stepped towards the line and spun the ball in his hands. The next few seconds would be just like practice.

“Extend your arm and just release just perfect,” Tillie said. “Just do your follow through.”

He reached back, extended and released it “just perfect” to hit the net and give the Zags a three-point lead. Then he hit another one for good measure.

“It was pretty more safe to make (both of) them,” Tillie said. Just in case the Gamecocks pulled out a long 3 that could send them semifinal into overtime.

“When I made the second one, it was over,” Tillie said. “We were just happy.”