There was no hard-luck pat on the back, no “Wait til next year” and especially no congratulatory text message that was hastily reversed.
South Carolina is going to the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks snapped a 13-year streak of missing the game’s signature event on Sunday when their names were called as one of the 68 participants for this year’s national championship. USC (22-10) earned a 7-seed and will play 10-seed Marquette (19-12) on Friday at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena. The game is scheduled to start at approximately 9:45 p.m. – 25 minutes after Duke-Troy ends – and will air on TBS.
With a win, the Gamecocks would take on the winner of Duke and Troy.
“When we went upstairs and watched it, we was just basically waiting to see where we was going and who we was going to play,” SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell said. “The suspense was very high for all of us.”
Thornwell said the day started with a text message to the team’s veterans, asking to report to coach Frank Martin’s office. That had a few on pins and needles, but the meeting eased their minds that they had done more than enough to earn a spot.
“I was not nervous one bit,” Martin said. “I’ve coached NCAA teams, I know when I’ve got an NCAA team.”
The specter of last year hovered, though, until USC was announced. It happened very early in the show as the East Regional was revealed, and with Martin expecting either an 8-9 seed out West or a 10 closer to home, his team received a 7. The NCAA rated USC the No. 26 team in the country in its listing of bids.
“When I saw the 7 and I saw the South Carolina come up next to it, with that beautiful Block C … I didn’t realize that was us,” Martin said. “Pretty powerful moment for me.”
Martin’s five-year reclamation project has resulted in what he always expected but didn’t know how hard it would be. So many pitfalls pocked the road since 2012, but Martin steered the Gamecocks through.
It’s the first tournament berth since 2004 and just the ninth in school history. Stung by his team’s exclusion last year after winning 24 games, Martin significantly strengthened his schedule this year, and the move paid off when USC beat Vermont, Michigan, Syracuse and Monmouth before starting SEC play.
The Gamecocks finished 12-6 in the league, their second-highest win total in history, and claimed fourth place while Thornwell had one of the best individual seasons USC’s ever seen.
The senior now gets a chance to erase the last month of the Gamecocks’ struggling play by leading them to a tournament win.
USC has not won an NCAA Tournament game since March 10, 1973, a 44-year streak where 201 of 346 eligible teams have won at least one game. The Gamecocks lost their only tournament game five times since – 1974, 1989, 1997, 1998 and 2004.
None of that matters, nor does USC’s 3-6 mark in its last nine games. It’s a one-game season.
“(2004), 13 years ago, was the last time we were in this thing,” Martin said. “(1973)’s the last time we won a game.
“We’ve got a chance to do some special things, man.”
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Who: No. 7 South Carolina (22-10) vs. No. 10 Marquette (19-12)
When: Friday, time 9:45 p.m. – 25 minutes after Duke-Troy ends
Where: Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena