Sindarius Thornwell thinks he let his teammates down.
He’s done doing that.
South Carolina’s senior guard took over the final seven minutes of the Gamecocks’ 79-68 win over Texas A&M on Saturday, scoring 11 of his 16 points with three rebounds. Trailing 59-58 when the Aggies scorched another of their 11 3-pointers, Thornwell brushed aside an unproductive game.
His layup restored the lead. Two straight putbacks pushed it further. An assist, free throw and another layup and the Gamecocks were suddenly up 72-61, a 14-2 run.
Three minutes later, they were 2-0 in the SEC for just the fourth time in school history.
“Sin was key in that run,” said Duane Notice, who broke his own shooting slump with 19 points. “He attacked the basket and didn’t settle for any jump shots. I think everybody just became more confident after that.”
Thornwell and P.J. Dozier finished strongly after not beginning very well, but 19 points from freshman Rakym Felder and 15 from Chris Silva kept the Gamecocks in it during the lapse. Tied up by the Aggies’ mammoth players shredding their SEC-best defense and raining 3s like thundersnow through the mountains, USC (12-3, 2-0 SEC) was trailing at the half.
But the message at halftime wasn’t a paint-peeling screech. It was simply logistics – the Aggies couldn’t shoot that well (nearly 70 percent) forever. As long as the Gamecocks got some shots and cleaned up their rebounding, they could flourish.
So they did.
Notice and Silva grabbed the lead right out of the locker room, then Felder scored five quick points. Another Notice 3 made it an eight-point game, and while the Aggies fought back to take the lead when the 6-foot-9 D.J. Hogg kept swishing 3-pointers (he had seven among 25 points), Thornwell was ready for his moment.
He took over the final stretch as the Aggies couldn’t finish. They shot 52.9 percent and 11-of-19 from long range against the best scoring, field-goal and 3-point defense in the league but it wasn’t enough.
“Hanging around with shooters like Duane, P.J. and Sin, I just found my rhythm,” said Felder, who played 16 minutes with Dozier in foul trouble. “My confidence is at an all-time high right now.”
Martin was pleased his team has so many options to lean on when the expected stars are having an off night, and Felder’s emergence after recovering from an offseason broken foot was the latest example. With Notice breaking out of a drought and Thornwell picking up where he left off, the Gamecocks matched their 2-0 SEC start of last year.
The only time they’ve done better throughout their history is when they started 11-0 in the league en route to the 1996-97 regular-season championship. Martin’s not thinking of that, only of repairing the defensive rebounding and getting ready for Tennessee on Wednesday.
“I’d rather be 2-0 and go fix a problem then be 0-2 and trying to convince them the problem is something else we can’t fix,” he said.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState