GREENVILLE, S.C. â€” South Carolina is heading to Madison Square Garden â€” and not for the NIT.
A Gamecocks program known largely â€” and mocked often by some â€” for its back-to-back NIT championships in 2005 and 2006 is now heading to the world’s most famous arena as part of the NCAA’s Sweet 16. They are making their first appearance in the regional semifinals since the bracket expanded after an 88-81 victory Sunday night over No. 2 seed Duke in the East Regional.
And Sindarius Thornwell says he believes bigger things are ahead.
“We’re not satisfied,” he said. “We’re in it, so why not win it?”
The Gamecocks (24-10) seem capable of anything after this one.
Thornwell had 24 points, Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and Canadian Duane Notice had 17 points, 14 in a 65-point second half, as South Carolina rallied from 10 points down for a second straight NCAA victory.
The 65 points were the most given up in a half by a Mike Krzyzewski-coached Duke team.
The Gamecocks shook off a 20-per cent shooting first half for the win.
“I told the guys at halftime, someone’s got to have the courage and make shots,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
When the horn sounded, South Carolina players, coaches and staff rushed to the fans at Bon Secours Wellness Arena to celebrate â€” a crowd that included Houston Texans Pro Bowl defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a former Gamecock.
Next up is the East Regional where South Carolina takes on third-seeded Baylor, an 82-78 winner over Southern Cal earlier Sunday.
Duke (28-9) was attempting to reach the round of 16 for the sixth time in eight seasons. The Blue Devils, though, could not surmount South Carolina’s stifling defence. Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing 1 of 6 for 11 points before fouling out.
The Blue Devils made five of their eight 3-point attempts in the first half, yet only 5 of 19 after the break. They had tied a season high with 18 turnovers against the relentless Gamecocks attack.
Silva added 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double this season.
Greyson Allen led Duke with 20 points.
Krzyzewski said South Carolina’s physical nature wore down his team in the second half.
“That’s the most physical team we’ve faced all year,” he said.
Even as South Carolina got in front, Duke believed it could mount a comeback like the several it pulled off last week to become the first ACC champion to win four games on the way to a title.
“We’ve done it before. We thought we could,” Matt Jones said. “The shots just didn’t fall today. We couldn’t find enough energy to muster up that late push.”
It was hard to call this anything other than a home game for South Carolina, whose campus is 2 hours east and whose fans filled the arena. Kennard said his team has been in difficult environments before “and we’ve won games like that. Their team, they fed off the crowd I think and it gave them a little energy.”
Notice has struggled with his shot at times this season, so much that Martin has fielded questions about sitting him down. Notice finished 6 of 8 with two 3-pointers in the South Carolina win. “Aren’t you glad I didn’t do that?” Martin asked.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had not won an NCAA Tournament game in 44 years coming into the weekend. Now, they’re looking to advance to the Elite Eight with another victory. Quite a turn for a team that had lost five of its last seven games before the NCAAs.
Duke: The Blue Devils had lived by the 3-pointer much of the season and when those didn’t fall in the second half, it surely cost them. They’ll certainly be a different looking team next year with seniors like Jones and Amile Jefferson finishing up and freshmen like Jayson Tatum, considering the NBA.
South Carolina plays third-seeded Baylor in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
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Pete Iacobelli, The Associated Press