Frank Martin didn’t need the film in front of him to rattle off specifics.
“He made the 1-on-1,” Martin said, “he made the drive for the floater, he made the drive and dropped it off to Chris for the dunk, he made the 3.”
It was Monday morning inside Colonial Life Arena’s media room, and the South Carolina coach was reliving a great moment in Gamecocks basketball recent history. On Jan. 24 at Florida’s O’Connell Center, Wes Myers pulled a Sindarius Thornwell.
“He closed,” Martin said.
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Myers scored 22 points – including 12 in the second half – as USC upset the Gators 77-72. It was a night of flashbacks for Martin. Carolina not only beat UF in the programs’ first matchup since last year’s Elite Eight game, it did so in a way that reminded him of veteran teams past.
Myers, though a fifth-year senior, didn’t look like a first-year player in Carolina’s program as he outdueled established Florida point guard Chris Chiozza.
Thornwell wasn’t in the building that evening. The reigning SEC Player of the Year and centerpiece to USC’s Final Four team is well into his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers.
There are few familiar faces still with the Gamecocks from that magical run last March, few links that can appreciate a good Thornwell impression.
Justin McKie qualifies. The former player turned Carolina graduate assistant coach was courtside in Gainesville.
“Wes really stepped up big,” McKie said Friday. “He knocked down some shots, played good defense and really just overall controlled the offense, controlled where guys need to be. … Yeah, it reminded me a little bit of Sin. Just a little bit.”
The 2017-18 Gamecocks are on a four-game losing streak entering Saturday’s noon rematch with Florida. At 13-11 overall, chances for them to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament are dwindling.
Thornwell’s memory lives on as USC continues a search for consistent leadership and clutch performance.
Since Myers, a transfer from Maine, broke out against the Gators, he’s averaged just 3.8 points per game. Four of Carolina’s losses since Dec. 31 have come by seven points or fewer.
Martin on Monday referenced Thornwell’s freshman season, when USC went 14-20 and lost six games by six points or fewer.
“I don’t dwell on the past, but I learn from the past,” Martin said. “And when those guys were all young, our record wasn’t great and the public opinion was we weren’t a good team. Internally, I was trying to figure all that stuff out. We had guys trying to figure out, ‘What should I do in that moment?’
“Well, hit fast forward. When those guys got older, Sindarius was as good a closer as I’ve ever been around. All you got to do is go look at games last year. We’re coming down the stretch, and he could be playing great (or) he could be playing OK, but that dude was gonna close the game because he lived it and he embraced that moment. That’s what we’re trying to find right now.”
McKie, along with Duane Notice, was in Thornwell’s recruiting class. He saw the gradual rise of a couple of moment-owners.
“I think what made them really good closers, honestly, is not being good closers in the beginning,” McKie said. “Our first couple years, we had a couple games where we lost coming down the stretch that we could have won.
“I think those experiences really helped Sin and Duane out a lot. Just by going through those failures, they were able to succeed in the long haul.”
Myers can’t slow-drip his way to that kind of a role. His long haul is represented by these final seven games.
His flash of greatness against Florida two weeks ago was proof the celebrated traits from the 2016-17 Gamecocks haven’t vanished. The challenge is hypothesizing when it will show again.
“You want to finish these games out, you want to win these close games,” McKie said, “but I think some of these guys that are young, as they get older, they’ll remember the Tennessee game, the Texas Tech game and remember how it felt not to finish those winnable games. And in the long run, they’ll be able to finish games.”
Florida (16-8, 7-4 SEC) at South Carolina (13-11, 4-7)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Colonial Life Arena