What a game.
For the first time in modern NCAA Tournament history, the South Carolina Gamecocks are in the Sweet 16. They exploded for a incredible 65 second-half points to defeat Duke 88-81 and move on to the East regional semifinals against Baylor on Friday in New York City.
Three quick thoughts from the night:
- Another big second half was the key to the Gamecocks’ win. Despite a lackluster first 20 minutes in which they scored only 23 points and shot the ball poorly, their defense frustrated Duke to the point that Coach K told Lewis Johnson during the halftime interview on TNT that it was the best defensive team they’d played all year. Then the offense came: Carolina exploded behind strong performances by Chris Silva and - who else? Sindarius Thornwell; Silva finished with 17 and Thornwell ended with a game-high 24 on a combined 12-26 night from the field. The Blue Devils (who averaged just over 11 miscues a game) would end up finishing with a season-high tying 18 turnovers. The only other team to force them into that many this year? Louisville, back on January 14 (a 78-69 loss).
- I sent this text to a couple of GABA staff members: I’m not sure who that was in Duane Notice’s jersey, but it was like a whole different player that we’ve seen in recent games. Notice was aggressive, attacking the rim and making plays on both sides of the court. He finished with 17 points on 6-8 shooting and 2-4 from beyond the arc. While Thornwell is the star of the show for the Gamecocks, it’s performances by Notice and Silva that pushed the team to the finish line as the big three were clicking at one time. Unsung hero: Rah Felder (15 points), who is going to be a star for this program by the time he walks across the stage in a few years.
- Can’t say enough about the crowd as they were vocal once again. To reiterate my point in the preview, they would stand to be the most important factor in the game - even more so than any player. I believe that if this were being played on a neutral court, South Carolina would have lost this game. But they rode a heavily garnet-clad (not red, Chris Webber) Bon Secours Wellness Arena to what will go down as one of the biggest wins in recent history for this program. And to do it just 90 minutes from home was just icing on the cake.
Next up: Baylor on Friday at Madison Square Garden in the Sweet 16. Soak it up, Gamecock Nation. This will certainly be a night no one will forget.