New York, N.Y. – An 18-0 run had helped South Carolina take a 15-point halftime lead over Baylor in the Sweet 16. However, the veteran Bears team put together a 10-0 run of their own to trim the deficit to 11 points in the second half.
Luckily for the Gamecocks, they had a couple veterans of their own in their back pocket.
Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice both hit huge 3-pointers to put a halt to the Baylor momentum, and South Carolina came away with a 70-50 win over Baylor to advance to its first ever Elite Eight.
"Your two seniors step up," head coach Frank Martin said. "The other team is making a run, and your two seniors step up to the plate and make shots to stop the run. That's the beautiful thing of having seniors. They know how to play with each other, and they know when they need to do it and not do it. They both knew it was time to go make shots."
Leading 49-38, Notice dribbled down the court and found his classmate in the corner. Thornwell did the rest.
"I saw the shot clock go down, I saw a gap and took it, and I saw them commit to Rah (Felder) or P.J., and I threw that skip pass to Sin and he was able to get it in," Notice said. "That was a great shot for us because it helped stop the bleeding."
A couple of possessions later, Maik Kotsar grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Notice, who joined the long distance party to put South Carolina up by 17 points.
As a seven seed, not many people expected the Gamecocks to win a game, much less advance all the way to the national quarterfinals.
"We try to give everything we have every game, and we play the game the right way," said Thornwell, who finished with 24 points and six rebounds. "We've been doing it all season, it's just now y'all gave us a stage to do it and we're showcasing what we have been doing all season."
PJ Dozier and Chris Silva recorded baskets in the paint to give the Gamecocks an early 5-2 lead, and the South Carolina defense made it extremely hard on Baylor to start the game.
The Bears made just three of their first 14 field goal attempts, but were able to stay close with solid defense on the other end.
Two Silva free throws made it a five-point game, but a three-point play and layup by Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. tied the game at 11. Johnathan Motley's layup gave the Bears the lead, but Kotsar immediately tied it up for South Carolina.
Baylor scored again to take a 15-13 lead, but South Carolina took the game over after that. The defensive intensity turned up once again, and the Bears could not buy a basket.
Meanwhile, several different players stepped up on offense, and the result was a huge, 18-0 run for the Gamecocks. After the early basket to give it a 15-13 lead, Baylor would not score again for more than seven and a half minutes.
Notice began the run with a 3-pointer, and a score by Thornwell and free throws by Silva and Dozier made it 23-15. Freshman Rakym Felder added a floater at the end of the shot clock to make it a double-digit game, but the Gamecocks weren't done there.
Silva nailed a nice jumper with a hand in his face to make it a 16-0 run and 29-15 Gamecock lead. That finally forced the Bears to call timeout with 3:23 left in the first half.
Jake Lindsey broke the long Baylor scoring drought with a three, but Dozier quickly cancelled that out with a trey of his own.
Notice's three made it a 17-point game late in the half, and it would be a 37-22 score at halftime. Thornwell's 10 points led South Carolina, which made 12-of-25 (48 percent) of its field goals in the first half. Dozier also added eight points, four rebounds and three assists while Silva scored nine and grabbed six rebounds.
The Bears made just 8-of-32 (25 percent) field goals in the opening half.
"We have been real good defensively all year," Martin said. "We were on point definitely today."
Baylor turned four early turnovers by South Carolina into eight points to take the 15-13 lead, but it would not get any more points off turnovers for the rest of the half.
During games where one team takes a big first half lead, the first five minutes of the second half usually determines who winds up as the winner. In the Gamecocks' case, they made sure to start the half strong.
Dozier pulled up to nail a jumper before Thornwell went around a screen and dropped home a three that gave the Gamecocks a 20-point lead.
But as expected, Baylor had a run in them.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Manu Lecomte fueled a 10-0 Bears run, and it was suddenly an 11-point game. However, Notice and Thornwell paired up to hit the two huge threes, and the Gamecocks quickly seized the momentum back and led by 17 at the under-eight media timeout.
The real dagger came when Thornwell found himself open off a pick and roll, and calmly knocked down a trey to make it a 20-point lead again. Felder added a stop and pop jumper on the next possession, and that would be it for the Bears.
As the buzzer sounded, Thornwell and a couple of his teammates ran to the opposite sideline and soaked in the amazing atmosphere. However, there's not a lot of time for celebrating. South Carolina will play on Sunday in the Elite Eight for a chance to go to the Final Four in Phoenix, Arizona.
"That's a great feeling, to be here and to keep winning," Silva said. "We're not done yet. We don't want to be just here, we want to keep winning."
Along with Thornwell's big night, both Dozier and Silva added 12 points while Notice scored 11. The Gamecocks made 23-of-50 (46 percent) field goals while the Bears knocked down just 17-of-56 (30.4 percent).
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Artie Walker**