'You couldn't tell it was a neutral site:' Gamecocks thankful for fan support

'You couldn't tell it was a neutral site:' Gamecocks thankful for fan support

Greenville – As South Carolina jogged out onto the court for pregame warmups on Friday, a wave of noise washed down over the Gamecocks as they prepared for their first round matchup against Marquette. 

It was evident from the beginning that South Carolina would enjoy a homecourt advantage, and it more than took advantage of it against the Golden Eagles. 

Several times at key moments during Friday's game, the South Carolina players waved their arms to urge the Garnet and Black-laden crowd on. 

Not like they needed much persuading. 

"It was a different feeling out there tonight," senior Duane Notice said. "The intensity was unmatched in terms of anything I've witnessed or played in. The fans were responsible for so much of our success. They seemed to be on edge the whole night, and we fed off it. You couldn't tell it was a neutral site."

It was an electric atmosphere from start to finish as the Gamecocks turned a 10-point first half deficit into a 20-point win. With around seven minutes to play, South Carolina's lead started to expand and the decibel level inside Bon Secours Wellness Arena started to rise.

"That's what we signed up for," senior Sindarius Thornwell said. "We signed up to put this program in a situation where when it's time to leave, we're competing with the best teams in the country." 

What streak? Gamecocks win first NCAA Tournament game in 44 years

The Greenville Regional was the first NCAA Tournament site to sell out this week, and it was easy to see why as the home state Gamecocks, Duke and North Carolina were all placed in the regional. There were obviously a lot of Duke and North Carolina fans for those respective games, but nothing matched the atmosphere that was present when the Gamecocks took on Marquette.

The Golden Eagles expected a hostile crowd in South Carolina, but what they experienced on Friday was still somewhat of a surprise. 

"Felt like an away game, almost," Marquette's Jajuan Johnson said. "The crowd was loud, and every time they made a run you could hear them.

"They have great fans and they showed out tonight," Golden Eagles head coach Gene Wojciechowski added. 

There is no doubt that the atmosphere helped spark the Gamecocks to their big run, and fans certainly deserve a pat on the back for what they brought in the first round game. 

Sunday's game between No. 2 seed Duke and No. 7 seed South Carolina should be a must-watch affair. Gamecock fans will again pack the arena, but Duke will also have a strong contingent on hand. 

With a Sweet Sixteen spot on the line, the Gamecocks will once again need to put together a total team effort and use the atmosphere to their advantage.

"I'm just really proud of my guys," head coach Frank Martin said after the win over Marquette. "We've got a lot of work tonight, a lot of work tomorrow, but you know what, these kids have taken me on an unbelievable ride and I couldn't be prouder."

Tipoff between the Gamecocks and Blue Devils is scheduled for approximately 8:45 p.m. on Sunday.

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Artie Walker**