USC Men's Basketball

ELITE D: Gamecocks crunch Baylor, stand one step from Final Four

Gamecock Nation was loud in Madison Square Garden, players say

South Carolina players say they were surprised at how loud Gamecock fans were inside the arena. They also said they didn't expect the amount of fans that showed up.
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South Carolina players say they were surprised at how loud Gamecock fans were inside the arena. They also said they didn't expect the amount of fans that showed up.

South Carolina will wake up one more morning in The City That Never Sleeps.

Although Columbia, bursting with pride over its now-Elite Eight basketball team, is challenging New York for its nickname.

The Gamecocks rocked Baylor 70-50 on Friday and took their NCAA Tournament ride to the farthest spot in program history, riding an 18-0 first-half offensive burst and their devastating defense to stand one win from the Final Four. The Bears (27-8), trying to use their superior height and inside presence to their advantage, were undone by a smaller, quicker, nastier squad.

“We’ve been doing it all season,” said star Sindarius Thornwell, who scored 24 points. “Now, y’all gave us the stage to do it, and we’re just showcasing what we’ve been doing all season.”

USC will play Florida at 2:20 p.m. Sunday on CBS. The two teams split the season series with each of the home teams winning. The SEC has three teams in the Elite Eight after Kentucky beat UCLA.

The Gamecocks (25-10) surrounded All-American Johnathan Motley and tried to pressure every touch he got, holding him to 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting. Seven-footer Jo Lual-Acuil didn’t have much room either, and when USC’s first-half defense began collecting turnovers, USC sprinted ahead.

Baylor didn’t score for 7:37 as the Gamecocks’ offense found its rhythm. USC ran off 18 straight points after trailing 15-13 and took a 37-22 lead into the break.

Frank Martin cautioned his team at the half about not letting up, about finishing the job it started. The Gamecocks responded by taking a 21-point lead, and while Baylor ran off 10 straight points to get back in the game, USC still had its biggest gun ready to fire.

South Carolina's Sindarius Thornwell says the team is still the underdog but is ready to play anyone.

Thornwell, who started 1-of-6 from the field, banged a 3-pointer from the left wing to stop the run and fellow senior Duane Notice did the same, after Maik Kotsar found him following an offensive rebound. The lead restored to 17 and the crowd back into it, the Gamecocks finished the final nine minutes on a tear.

“When they went on their run, that TV timeout happened,” Thornwell said. “That’s when we settled down. I hit a 3 and Duane hit a 3. We just had to finish the game then.”

They did and are in uncharted waters, although Martin has been here before. The coach mentioned how he wouldn’t make the same mistake he did in 2010 by trying to lightly practice before an Elite Eight game.

The way the Gamecocks are playing defense, he doesn’t need to limit anything.

“We were on point defensively today,” Martin said. “It’s the best defensive team I’ve coached in college basketball.”

USC held Baylor to 30.4 percent shooting and outrebounded the Bears by three. The Bears had 16 turnovers that became 11 USC points.

Sunday will be the biggest game in program history, much like Friday was. USC has refused to bow to the pressure of the moment over the past two weeks; will that change now that the Final Four is a very real possibility?

“We’re not done yet. We don’t want to just be here,” said center Chris Silva, who finished with 12 points. “We want to be beyond great. We want to keep winning.”

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South Carolina guard PJ Dozier says the team doesn't want the journey to end. Says they have another big game on Sunday.

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SOUTH CAROLINA (25-10)

Silva 3-7 6-8 12, Kotsar 1-2 0-0 2, Notice 4-6 0-0 11, Thornwell 6-14 8-10 24, Dozier 5-12 1-2 12, Keita 0-0 0-0 0, Felder 4-7 1-3 9, Gravett 0-1 0-0 0, McKie 0-1 0-0 0, Blanton 0-0 0-0 0, Hinson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-50 16-23 70.

BAYLOR (27-8)

Lual-Acuil 4-6 1-1 9, Motley 8-17 2-6 18, Wainright 0-1 0-0 0, Lecomte 3-11 0-0 8, McClure 1-4 2-2 4, Omot 0-1 2-4 2, Maston 0-7 2-2 2, Mitchell 0-3 0-0 0, Freeman 0-4 4-5 4, Lindsey 1-2 0-0 3. Totals 17-56 13-20 50.

Halftime: South Carolina 37-22. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 8-20 (Thornwell 4-10, Notice 3-4, Dozier 1-4, Felder 0-1, McKie 0-1), Baylor 3-13 (Lecomte 2-5, Lindsey 1-2, Wainright 0-1, Omot 0-1, Freeman 0-1, McClure 0-1, Mitchell 0-2). Fouled Out: Kotsar. Rebounds: South Carolina 37 (Silva 7), Baylor 29 (Motley 9). Assists: South Carolina 12 (Notice 4), Baylor 11 (Wainright 4). Total Fouls: South Carolina 20, Baylor 20. A: 20,047 (19,812).

South Carolina coach Frank Martin credited his team's SEC schedule for their success in the NCAA Tournament, saying that the conference competition "hardened" his players and prepared them for the postseason.

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