David Cloninger

Thornwell simply the best

It ended, not the way he wanted it to, but knowing he had done what he set out to do.

Sindarius Thornwell finished his college career as the greatest player South Carolina has had, and decades from now, everyone will still remember the best individual season in program history. The senior’s redemptive sprint through the SEC and how he willed his team to heights never before reached will be an example to every future player – want it bad enough and this could be the result, the message will read.

He beat himself up so badly for his six-game mistake that he played the 24 after it like all six were contained in the next. Thornwell simply refused to have a bad night, doing whatever it took to ensure the Gamecocks would be in position to win.

They didn’t always, but because of him, they were always competitive. He wouldn’t allow them not to be. And when they reached the prize every college player should but only a few do – and even fewer still from South Carolina do – Thornwell somehow elevated his game more.

His last game, against Gonzaga on Saturday in the Final Four, wasn’t his best. Whatever illness that cost him practice the other day was still in his system, and though he was out there trying his best, he wasn’t at top form. The energy, the pep that he supplied all year simply wasn’t there.

Yes, it was disappointing to lose, but Thornwell started something. He chose to play for his in-state school, which was coming off a 14-win season. He chose to turn down some of the big boys, and bigger boys that would have flocked to Oak Hill to see him play as a senior, to be a part of Frank Martin’s project.

It didn’t come easy, but it came, and Thornwell was always in the middle of it. He finished third on USC’s all-time scoring list, trailing only BJ McKie and Alex English, and he finished in the program’s career top 10 of points, rebounds, steals and assists.

He showed a South Carolina kid could commit and succeed at the home-state school. He paved the way for others to do the same.

And, of course, it would come down to him, trying to pull off one more impossible play to keep the Gamecocks in the game. He back-rimmed his second free throw intentionally in the waning seconds Saturday, hoping for a rebound, but it didn’t bounce USC’s way.

It was all right. There were a lot of other chances that came through because of him.

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