David Cloninger

5 things that went right for USC on run to Final Four

With South Carolina in the Final Four, here are five things that went right for the Gamecocks in the East Regional:

1. BENCH STRENGTH

Sindarius Thornwell was always going to be Sindarius Thornwell, and that was exactly what opponents knew over the final month of the regular season. They forced other Gamecocks to beat them, and those other Gamecocks hardly came through.

The starting five was on point throughout the regional but the bench, missing in action for most of February, was also ready. Rakym Felder had nine and four against Baylor while Justin McKie popped a crucial 3-pointer against Florida and also pulled two rebounds.

2. BIG BOYS

Maik Kotsar, back in the starting lineup in the tournament, had 14 points and three rebounds over two games in New York. The freshman didn’t shy away from contact against Baylor’s Johnathan Robinson or Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes, posting up and scoring inside, or switching out to hit baseline jumpers. His 10-footer from the paint against Florida off a pass from Thornwell put USC up four with 1:55 to go.

Chris Silva showed how dominant he can be, even with a couple of first-half fouls against Florida. When the man stays on the court, he impacts; the Gamecocks’ center had 25 points and 16 rebounds in New York, with one blocked shot.

3. DRIVE

P.J. Dozier’s jump shot has gone missing, so he didn’t try to find it during each 40 minutes of the weekend. Dozier was cutting to the rack, showing off how that rangy body can dish and flip the ball from anywhere a defender can’t get it. Dozier had 17 and 12 in two games and nine rebounds.

4. FREE POINTS

The Gamecocks were hit-and-miss from the line all season, checking in with a percentage just under 70. For a team that likes to play at the rim, USC had a troubling tendency to not convert when it accomplished its mission of getting to the charity stripe.

USC was 39-of-54 from the line in New York (72.2 percent).

5. HOME GAMES

Greenville was obviously going to be a Gamecock stronghold, but Madison Square Garden turned into one as well. USC, the Cinderella of the tournament, drew fans from teams that had already lost or just fans off the street who will always pull for the upset.

That said, there were thousands of Gamecock fans who flew into New York for the Florida game, wanting to see the greatest moment in program history in person. They let everybody in the country know, too, filling that building with more noise than any pro game this year.

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