Those nearly forgotten dancing shoes are made of glass.
South Carolina shocked everyone but its thousands of garnet-clad faithful at Bon Secours Wellness Arena Sunday by beating second-seeded Duke 88-81, punching the Gamecocks’ ticket to New York and the Sweet 16. Following its first NCAA tournament win since 1973 on Friday, USC (24-10) overcame an icy shooting first half to sock the ACC champions out of the tournament.
It’s the first time USC has ever won consecutive NCAA tournament games. The seventh-seed Gamecocks will play No. 3 Baylor at 7:29 p.m. on Friday with the winner advancing to the Elite Eight. A win there …
Well, they didn’t get here by talking about anything other than the step in front of them. But my, what a step they took Sunday.
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Frank Martin credited his three seniors for showing the way. It was the group of Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice and Justin McKie that never quit believing a day like Sunday was possible.
“Those three guys stood tall every single day,” Martin said. “And that’s why I’m not surprised that we played the way we did in the second half.”
The Gamecocks scored 65 points in the final 20 minutes, 12 more than they had in their entire SEC tournament loss to Alabama 10 days ago. They shot 71.4 percent as Duke’s defense lost its early aggression.
Chris Silva started it with two dunks and the rest of the Gamecocks were energized. A team that was 7-of-35 from the floor in the first 20 minutes could barely miss afterward.
Thornwell was everywhere, driving the lane, stroking 3-pointers and finding McKie with length-of-the-court passes past Duke’s press for uncontested jams. Notice, part of a spiderweb defense that held sharpshooter Luke Kennard to one field goal, scored 17 points.
Silva also had 17 and Rakym Felder, taking a vital role when P.J. Dozier fouled out, scored 15. USC’s defense, labeled by Mike Krzyzewski the toughest Duke saw all season, forced 18 turnovers.
Duke (28-9) was the favorite to win the national championship. The Gamecocks, who broke that lengthy tournament streak by punishing Marquette in the lane, had five shots blocked in the first 10 minutes and their outside shooting was as spotty as it has been all season.
With 12:03 to go, USC made its move. Dozier canned a jumper to tie the game at 48 and the Gamecocks inched ahead by a point on his and-1 free throw. Following Frank Jackson’s missed 3, Felder again had the rim in his sights and fearlessly let fly.
As The Well’s USC contingent began trembling, sensing the greatest moment in program history was upon it, Martin had the past five years flash through his head. All of the struggles, the heartache, the wondering if it would ever pay off has come to fruition.
The Gamecocks are going to the Sweet 16. And that means they have a chance to win the whole shootin’ match.
“We’re in it, why not win it?” Thornwell asked. “Why not us? If you win, why not win it all? And that’s our ultimate goal.”
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