USC Men's Basketball

Thornwell takes over to keep Gamecocks perfect in SEC

He’s the biggest reason why they were 2-0, so why wouldn’t they turn to him to become 3-0?

Sindarius Thornwell scored eight of South Carolina’s final 17 points Wednesday as the Gamecocks beat Tennessee 70-60. USC (13-3) is 3-0 in the SEC for only the second time in school history.

The first was 20 years ago, when the Gamecocks won their only SEC championship.

“That’s awesome for our guys, that’s awesome for our fans,” said coach Frank Martin, who also picked up his 200th career win. “That’s not going to help us beat Ole Miss on Saturday.”

Wednesday’s game wasn’t exactly what Dr. Naismith envisioned.

USC’s defense hampered a freshman-laden Volunteers team to 17 of 52 from the field, but Tennessee shot 33 free throws, making 25. The Gamecocks couldn’t keep their hands to themselves, racking up 26 fouls and putting Chris Silva, Thornwell and P.J. Dozier on the bench much of the night.

USC swished 19 of 27 from the line and had enough offense to get by after Thornwell scored 22, 16 in the second half. Backup point guard Hassani Gravett stroked two 3-pointers among his 12 points and Duane Notice had 11.

Martin summed it up.

“We just made this a prehistoric game today,” he said. “Inability to understand time, score, make better decisions … it’s a win, and we did play hard. I think we out-rebounded a team for the first time since, like, October.”

USC turned it over five times in the first four minutes and wound up with 22 for the game. Dozier fouled out with six points and six turnovers to two assists. The Gamecocks allowed a 9-0 run in the final five minutes of the first half, and an 8-1 run after they stretched the lead to 13 to start the second.

They did enough right to get the victory, though, which is the only factor that matters.

“At the end of the year, they don’t ask you how, or by how much, they say how many?” Martin said. “And if you’ve got enough wins, they like you a lot more if you don’t. So we’ve got to go figure out a way to get another one on Saturday.”

Tennessee (8-8, 1-3) shot its way back into the game from the line, USC again unleashing its vicious perimeter defense but unable to match it in the paint. With Silva and Maik Kotsar in foul trouble, the Vols were snaring too many offensive rebounds (17) and second chances.

USC led 50-43 with 8:28 to go and Thornwell said enough. Just as Thompson-Boling Arena began to rise and cheer for its smoky-grey clad heroes, Thornwell sat ’em back down with a 3-pointer.

He drove the lane to score or get fouled. He had a key rebound and a steal in the final stretch. The Gamecocks needed him to shoulder the team, so the senior did.

“Definitely,” Thornwell said. “When we got the foul count on our side, that’s when I try to go get the ball.”

He finished with five boards, four assists, a block and four steals.

“The lesson learned from last season – you got to take every game serious,” Thornwell said. “We’re coming in every game with the same mindset that we got to do everything we can to win.”

NOTE

Walk-on Christian Schmitt didn’t make the trip because of the 15-man book limit. With Evan Hinson joining the team, the Gamecocks were one over the maximum.

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SOUTH CAROLINA (13-3)

Kotsar 2-6 1-2 5, Silva 2-4 0-0 4, Dozier 2-10 1-1 6, Thornwell 6-12 9-10 22, Notice 3-5 3-4 11, Gueye 0-0 0-0 0, Keita 0-0 0-1 0, Tut 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 1-1 2-4 5, Blanton 0-2 0-0 0, Gravett 4-8 2-2 12, Felder 2-6 1-3 5. Totals 22-54 19-27 70.

TENNESSEE (8-8)

Alexander 1-1 1-2 3, Williams 3-8 9-12 15, Hubbs 4-11 4-4 12, Bowden 1-7 2-2 4, Bone 3-10 1-3 7, Evans 1-2 0-0 2, Schofield 2-5 1-2 5, Parker 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 2-4 7-8 12, Phillips 0-4 0-0 0. Totals 17-52 25-33 60.

Halftime: South Carolina 27-21. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 7-13 (Gravett 2-4, Notice 2-4, McKie 1-1, Dozier 1-1, Thornwell 1-2, Felder 0-1), Tennessee 1-11 (Turner 1-2, Williams 0-1, Schofield 0-1, Bone 0-1, Hubbs 0-2, Phillips 0-2, Bowden 0-2). Fouled Out: Dozier. Rebounds: South Carolina 33 (Kotsar 8), Tennessee 31 (Hubbs 7). Assists: South Carolina 12 (Thornwell 4), Tennessee 10 (Schofield 3). Total Fouls: South Carolina 26, Tennessee 22.

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