David Cloninger

Cloninger: Don’t forget about Thornwell, and a note on RPI

Obviously, P.J. Dozier was the hero of Tuesday’s buzzer-beating win over Monmouth. The storylines were clear – he had a bad game before overtime, he had three lead-taking shots in that overtime and the last shot wasn’t exactly a planned effort and two-handed set attempt.

No, he caught a touch pass and had enough control to receive, line up the most difficult shot in the game (baseline jumper with no depth behind it) and put it up with enough touch for a swish. All while in the air. To save a game that South Carolina screwed up in just about every way it could when a win seemed preordained with 17 minutes to go.

Dozier deserves the hero’s mantle and will wear it well.

Just don’t forget about Sindarius Thornwell.

The heart, soul, spine, brain and big toe of the Gamecocks was the guy making the plays to get Dozier in position to make his. Let’s run the list:

* Monmouth has its first lead at 52-50. Thornwell immediately hit a 3, then sunk a layup.

* Thornwell stole the ball with a 58-56 lead (if only he’d have made the ensuing layup!)

* Thornwell swished two free throws for a 60-58 lead with 30 seconds to go after Chris Silva lost a rebound, Thornwell grabbed it and was fouled.

* When USC epically blundered its chance at the game-winning shot in regulation, turning it into a tip drill and Monmouth break, it was Thornwell that blocked Je’lon Hornbeak (and can we recognize how amazing that name is??) on the right elbow, which wound up being a ball out of bounds to USC.

* Thornwell hit two free throws to erase a 61-60 Monmouth lead in OT.

* Thornwell hit two free throws to break a 64-64 tie in OT.

* Thornwell blocked Micah Seaborn’s shot with a 68-66 lead in OT.

* Thornwell rebounded Justin Robinson’s missed jumper with a 69-68 deficit with eight seconds left, which begat the final play.

This is not to discount Dozier or any of the other Gamecocks who made huge plays in the kind of game that, frankly, USC has lost a lot more often than it’s won over the years. Silva, particularly, had three monster rebounds at the end of regulation where he was diving on the floor to get them, and a block.

But Frank Martin put it best the other day – he goes to bed every night thanking the almighty that Thornwell’s on his team. The kid from Lancaster who could have gone anywhere chose to be one of the first vital cogs in Martin’s project at USC, and man, is it fun to watch him spin the other wheels.

Senior leaders make senior plays. Thornwell is off to a fine start.

RPI and SOS

Martin had a great quote afterward.

“At the end of the year, they don’t ask you how you won games, they ask you how many you won and they ask who you beat,” he said. “Any time you can get out of an early-season game against a team as good as Monmouth that returns all their players, that has the guard play that they have, you take it and figure out a way to get better.”

The Gamecocks know better than anyone what RPI and SOS mean at the end of the year. They also know how it can change based on the year.

Right now, Tuesday is a magnificent victory, a “resume-worthy” win, as Jon Rothstein said. And Martin is absolutely correct – it don’t matter how it was won as long as it was won.

What the Gamecocks need to happen now is for Monmouth to continue being what it’s supposed to be – a league champion also bidding for March. They can’t afford for this win to look any less in the committee’s eyes.

I remember something similar in 2009, when USC was 21-9 and missed the NCAA tournament. The two most notable non-conference wins, which looked great at the time, were over Winthrop and Baylor.

The Eagles, after the tremendously successful He Who Shall Not Be Named era, finished 11-19 that season. The Bears finished 24-15, but only after a run to the NIT finals. That year was sandwiched between two NCAA tournament years.

The Gamecocks were punished for winning. The teams that should have been resume-builders at the time had bad seasons, thus the wins didn’t look as good.

Martin made this schedule to avoid the heartbreak of last year – which like 2009, had reasons for why it didn’t look as good in the committee’s eyes. Martin is again absolutely right when he said last year’s schedule looked great before all the key players transferred, and I’ll go to my grave believing I’m right when I say it still should have been enough, except that to the committee, South Carolina is not Vanderbilt or Michigan or Syracuse.

RPI and SOS don’t matter without the wins to go with them. USC is off to a wonderful start at 3-0 and has beaten one team that made the last tournament and one team that should make the next one.

They just need to keep taking care of their business, and hope the teams they beat take care of theirs.

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