Greenville – Sedee Keita was in disbelief as he walked around the locker room.
"We're going to the Sweet Sixteen," he said over and over again to his teammates.
It seemed as if he had to keep saying it to make sure that it was real and not a dream.
For South Carolina, playing in the Sweet Sixteen is definitely a reality. The Gamecocks frustrated Duke all night, and upset the Blue Devils by a final score of 88-81 to punch a ticket to Madison Square Garden in New York City.
South Carolina was a No. 7 seed, and almost no one thought the Gamecocks could defeat the second-seeded Blue Devils who were coming off an ACC Tournament Championship.
However, South Carolina did just that, and the locker room after the game was a wild celebration. Moments after the game ended, the Gamecock locker room was soaked with water and there were smiles, hugs and high fives everywhere you looked.
"Coaching in college basketball now, you have to get a rain coat and put it on before you go in there," head coach Frank Martin said. "It's an unbelievable moment for us."
It hadn't sunk in for any of the players, but it will soon – the Gamecocks are one of just 16 teams standing in Division I college basketball.
"It was amazing because a lot of people counted us out," freshman Rakym Felder said. "We just proved the world wrong."
For the three seniors – Justin McKie, Duane Notice and Sindarius Thornwell – the moments following the huge win were surreal. That trio was one of the first big building blocks for Martin when he arrived five years ago. The Gamecocks were down as a program then, and most fans would've been happy with a winning record. Talk of the NCAA Tournament was a distant fantasy.
However, Martin and his players changed that with hard work, and earned their first NCAA Tournament bid in 13 years this season. First came an exciting win over Marquette before the Gamecocks then put it all together in the second half to beat Duke.
South Carolina scored 65 points in the second half against the Blue Devils, which was the most points ever scored in a half against a Mike Krzyzewski coached team. That came after South Carolina put up 54 points in the second half against Marquette. The Gamecocks faced double-digit first half deficits against both teams, but the 119 combined points in the two halves proved to be the difference.
"We've worked so hard all season from the summer workouts to preseason to now," Thornwell said. "We never stopped, we never quit and just kept it going. I feel like our team deserved it.
There was a lot of emotion for Martin after the buzzer sounded against the Blue Devils. He was fighting back tears and immediately went over to hug his family. His players have always loved and adored him, and that moment was special for them.
"He had a vision for us about four or five years ago," Notice said of Martin. "He didn't promise us we would have this moment, but he promised us if we worked hard, he would turn us into better men and it's coming to fruition right now."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Artie Walker**