South Carolina players were given the news on Saturday – they would be without leading scorer and rebounder, Sindarius Thornwell, for an indefinite amount of time.
But thanks to the efforts of Duane Notice and PJ Dozier, the unbeaten Gamecocks didn’t miss a beat. Notice tied his career-high with 27 points and Dozier chipped in with 20 as the No. 20 Gamecocks defeated Florida International 70-54 Sunday at Colonial Life Arena.
The school sent out a release just before tip-off that Thornwell, a senior guard, was suspended indefinitely because of a violation of athletics department policy.
“The system we play in gives everybody equal opportunity to contribute for us to get the W,” Notice said. “We’ve dealt with adversity before, so it wasn’t anything new for us to rally together and play for our brother that’s down right now.”
USC coach Frank Martin threatened to walk out of the postgame news conference if he was asked about Thornwell, but he didn’t hesitate to mention it was good Notice and Dozier were on the top of their games because the rest of the lineup struggled.
“Chris (Silva) didn’t play well, but he was active,” Martin said. “I was disappointed in the rest of the guys. Because of the situation, we didn’t get better performances as far taking ownership of the moment. Duane and PJ both did that.”
Notice and Dozier combined to go 16 of 27 from the field, including 8 of 14 on 3-pointers. Notice set a career-best by making 6 of 10 from long range. The rest of the team finished 9 of 34 from the field, and 0 of 7 on 3-pointers.
Notice’s previous season-high was 17 points, and he was only shooting 36.4 percent from the field coming in.
“I was proud of those two guys,” Martin said. “Duane hasn’t been making shots. He’s played so hard the first month of the season, but the balls have not been going in for him. It was nice to see them fall today. PJ continues to grow in confidence.”
Dozier had a second consecutive solid performance. The sophomore set a career-high on Thursday with 21 points against Vermont, and nearly matched that output against the Panthers. He finished with 20 points despite missing some time in the second half when he came down awkwardly on a layup attempt after a steal. He returned after spending several minutes in the locker room.
Dozier said the absence of Thornwell didn’t have a factor in the way they played.
“At the end of the day, our team knew the game was still going to go on,” he said. “We had to continue to keep the same mindset as we had for the rest of the games. We came out and played hard and aggressive. “
South Carolina (8-0) never trailed, but couldn’t pull away from the Panthers either. A flurry of seven points in a row by Dozier and Notice late in the first half gave the Gamecocks control, and the lead never dipped in single digits again.
Florida International (3-6) played without leading scorer Donte McGill, who’s averaging 19.1 points per game. The Panthers suffered 23 turnovers that led to the Gamecocks holding a 24-6 advantage on points off turnovers.
South Carolina will take a break this week for exams and return to action December 12 against Seton Hall in New York.