It took a while for it to sink in even for South Carolina head coach Frank Martin. With just a few seconds remaining and the Gamecocks up nine, it still wasn't registering.
"Even with 18 seconds to go, I thought that somehow there was a nine-point play coming," Martin said.
But when Martin saw Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski walking toward him with time winding down, it became a reality.
The Gamecocks had just upset the Duke Blue Devils to punch a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen in New York City. It's the first Sweet Sixteen appearance for South Carolina since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
South Carolina scored 65 second half points, the most ever against a Krzyzewski coached team, and defeated the second-seeded Blue Devils, 88-81, at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. That was after a first half where the Gamecocks missed 28 shots and scored just 23 points.
"I'm just so proud of everyone," sophomore PJ Dozier said. "We came out and fought just as we did all year. I just wouldn't want to be in this position with another group of guys. We work so hard. And I'm just so happy for Frank. Frank Martin came in five years ago and turned this program into a Sweet Sixteen program. I'm just so proud of him, and that's who we do it for."
As the horn sounded, the Gamecocks gathered in the corner and mobbed each other while celebrating with the thousands of fans in Greenville. It was a surreal moment for a team that almost no one thought could knock off the mighty Duke Blue Devils.
However, the Gamecocks didn't care about that. They harassed and bullied around the Blue Devils on defense, and it resulted in 18 Duke turnovers that led to 16 second-chance points for South Carolina.
"(Duke) kind of started arguing and bickering a little bit on the court because of our defense, and that's really when we felt like we had them," senior Justin McKie said.
Sindarius Thornwell started the scoring with a tough layup, and after Duke answered, Chris Silva was fouled and made both free throws to give South Carolina a 4-2 lead.
The Blue Devils would charge back and a Jayson Tatum drive and dunk put Duke up, 6-4, at the under-16 media timeout.
It was 8-4 when PJ Dozier drove the lane for a layup, but Grayson Allen nailed a three to make it a five-point game.
Thornwell was triple teamed on the ensuing possession, but it didn't stop him from scoring in the paint. He then hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 11. Rakym Felder's three just moments later put the Gamecocks up by one, but that would be the last time South Carolina scored in a while.
For more than six minutes, South Carolina failed to score, and missed 11 straight field goal attempts. Duke went on an 11-0 run during that time, and led 24-14 over the Gamecocks before Chris Silva broke the drought with a jumper.
Duke was red-hot from behind the arc, however, and a Matt Jones three made it 28-18. The Blue Devils made five of their first six three-point attempts, marking the second straight time the Gamecocks' opponent started strongly from long distance.
"I think when we first got out there, a lot of us were a little bit nervous," McKie said. "It is Duke, you know their history. But in the second half, I think we settled in and were able to play basketball the way we know how."
However, a long scoring drought by Duke allowed the Gamecocks to get right back into the game. Two free throws by Thornwell made it an eight-point game before Duane Notice made a trey to make it 28-23 late in the first half.
Duke would take a 30-23 lead into the halftime break, but it could've been much worse had the Gamecocks not played terrific defense. They forced the Blue Devils into 13 first half turnovers and scored 10 points off those turnovers. South Carolina also racked up 12 offensive rebounds. Those numbers helped mask a 7-for-35 (20 percent) performance from the field.
The Gamecocks' 17 three-point attempts matched Duke's total number of field goal attempts. The Blue Devils made eight of those field goals for a 47.1 field goal percentage.
Amile Jefferson's three-point play early in the second half made it a 10-point game again, but Notice responded with one of his own to chip away at the lead. Two Silva free throws made it a three-point game before Allen dropped a 3-pointer. Thornwell would answer that as well with a trey, and another forced turnover and slam by Silva made it 38-37, forcing coach K to call a timeout with a little less than 16 minutes to play.
Coming out of the timeout, Thornwell lofted an alley-oop up to Silva, who slammed it home to give the Gamecocks their first lead since early in the first half.
Duke immediately answered, but a Thornwell three and Silva layup made it 44-41. After an Allen three tied it again, it would be back-and-forth for a while. However, Silva's three-point play over Harry Giles made it 55-51 with a little less than 11 minutes left in the game.
Notice's three made it 60-53, and the roof started to come off Bon Secours. Dozer's floater made it a nine-point game before the Blue Devils were finally able to answer.
The Gamecocks would continue to make tough shot after tough shot. With the shot clock expiring, Dozier's step-back jumper popped high off the rim and fell in.
It was that kind of night for South Carolina.
Notice's layup made it a 10-point game, and that's the lead the Gamecocks would hold at the final media timeout of the game.
South Carolina made a couple of mistakes down the stretch, but it made its free throws to clinch the historic win.
Thornwell was the consistent force again, scoring a game-high 24 points to go with six rebounds and five assists. Notice and Silva poured in 17 points each, and Silva also grabbed 10 rebounds to give himself a double-double.
South Carolina made 20-of-28 field goals in the second half for a whopping 71.4 field goal percentage. The Gamecocks made huge free throws down the stretch, and finished the game 27-of-32 (84.4 percent) from the charity stripe.
The Gamecocks will face Baylor at Madison Square Garden in the Sweet Sixteen on Friday. Tipoff is scheduled for around 7:30 p.m.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Artie Walker**