Greenville – The wait is finally over.
After 13 years away, South Carolina will play its first NCAA Tournament game since 2004 on Friday in Greenville. The seventh-seeded Gamecocks will play 10th-seeded Marquette at Bon Secours Wellness Arena with a late tipoff scheduled for approximately 9:50.
The Golden Eagles are from the Big East and carry a 19-12 record into Friday's game. They have impressive wins this year over Vanderbilt, Seton Hall, Xavier and No. 1 seed Villanova. While Marquette has been highly successful on offense, the Golden Eagles have struggled at times on defense. Opponents average 75 points per game and shoot over 45 percent from the floor. It seems like the Gamecocks have played nothing but stingy defensive teams for most of the season, so the matchup against Marquette good be a nice change of pace for South Carolina.
"It gives us a lot of confidence just knowing that we're going to have our opportunities, and we just have to step up and make the shots," Sindarius Thornwell said.
South Carolina struggled making shots against Alabama in the SEC Tournament, and it can't afford that against the Golden Eagles' explosive offense. Marquette averages 82.5 points per game, and loves to get into shootouts. It will be a contrast of styles as South Carolina likes to make its name on the defensive end of the floor.
Five different players average in double figures for Marquette, and seven players average at least 8.7 points per game. Leading scorer Markus Howard shoots 54.9 percent on 144 three-point attempts, a highly impressive number.
There are a lot of different weapons for Marquette, and the Gamecocks have to play one of their best defensive games of the season.
"They're as good a passing and shooting team as we've played against," head coach Frank Martin said. "Their spacing is very good. They play fast, they're aggressive.
"We have to be very disciplined defensively. But we've been that all year, so we just have to be real good at it tomorrow."
The Gamecocks have been solid on defense, limiting opponents to 64.5 points per game. South Carolina has been near the top of the country in three-point field goal defense, limiting opposing teams to less than 30 percent from behind the arc.
That area will be key for South Carolina on Friday night.
"It starts with Duane (Notice) guarding the ball (and) me and P.J. (Dozier) denying bigs," Thornwell said. "We're just going to get out there and do what we've been doing all season. Getting after it and guarding and trying to make them feel uncomfortable."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**