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

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

Greenville – Entering Friday, it had been 44 years since South Carolina had won a NCAA Tournament game. 

The Gamecocks changed that with a huge second half against Marquette at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, and the streak is officially over. 

South Carolina trailed by one at halftime, but Sindarius Thornwell and his team put on a show in half No. 2 as the Gamecocks raced away to a 93-73 win over the Golden Eagles. 

"Just for these guys to have never been on this stage, our school had never won since 1973 (and) I'm just so proud of our guys," head coach Frank Martin said.  

Thornwell finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and two assists as the Gamecocks clicked on all cylinders after getting down by as many as 10 points in the first half. 

The crowd in Greenville was filled with South Carolina fans, and the Gamecocks frequently pumped up the fans throughout the game.

"It was great," Thornwell said. "Thank you to all the Gamecock fans that were here supporting us and watching us on TV, too. It just gave us the confidence we needed to get over the edge and push through the final minutes of the game." 

Marquette had an excellent start to the game as Andrew Rowsey converted a four-point play to start the scoring. His pump fake got Chris Silva in the air, and the one-handed shot fell through the net. The Golden Eagles added two more baskets to take an 8-0 lead, but Sindarius Thornwell's 3-pointer put the Gamecocks on the board.

A goaltending call then made it a three-point game before Jajuan Johnson buried a three to make it 11-5. 

Duane Notice made a three to make it close again, but the Golden Eagles were hot from behind the arc to start the game. Another trey by Johnson made it a six-point game, and Marquette made four of its first six three-point attempts.

"Our guys were nervous," Martin said. "You know how hard they've worked to get to this moment? I knew we had to get past the initial hit of being nervous. I think as the half went on, we settled down. We started guarding the ball better."

A PJ Dozier layup made it a three-point game again, but the Golden Eagles used a 7-0 run to stretch the lead out again. Katin Reinhardt swished home a long three to make it 26-16, and it forced Martin to call a timeout. 

Justin McKie snapped the 7-0 run with a trey, and Duane Notice added another one just moments later to get the pro-Gamecock crowd on their feet at Bon Secours. Silva had a nice dunk to follow that, and Dozier followed with a dunk of his own, and it was just a two-point game as the Gamecocks urged the crowd on. 

However, Hauser nailed back-to-back threes to make it 34-26. South Carolina would chip away once again, and a Maik Kotsar layup near the end of the first half trimmed Marquette's lead down to 40-39 at halftime. 

Four different players scored at least eight points to pace a balanced South Carolina attack while Marquette made half of its 16 three-point attempts in the opening half. Overall, the Gamecocks made 15-of-31 (48.4 percent) of their field goals while Marquette made 14-of-29 (48.3 percent). 

Kotsar ended the first half with a score, and he began the second half with a tip-in and layup to give South Carolina its first lead of the game. However, with the Gamecocks leading by three, Marquette scored seven quick points to retake the advantage. 

The Gamecocks came roaring back again as Thornwell knocked down a game-tying trey. Dozier then gave the Gamecocks the lead back with a tough layup. Silva added two free throws, and on the next Marquette possession South Carolina forced a turnover that led to a fast break dunk by Dozier. The Golden Eagles promptly called a timeout, and every single South Carolina player was fired up as they headed back to the huddle.

It was a 55-49 lead for the Gamecocks with just under 15 minutes to play. 

"When you have a little breakout like that, and you have the crowd come in right behind you, it's amazing," Dozier said. "It's like a second wind. It gives you that burst, that boost that we needed to finish out the game." 

It was then Marquette's turn to claw its way back into the game. Rowsey was fouled on a 3-pointer, and he made all three free throws to trim it to a one-point game. Freshman Rakym Felder was right there for the answer, however, and his jumper and another Dozier dunk made it 68-63. 

A three by Thornwell made it a nine-point lead, which was the biggest to that point, but the Gamecocks kept extending it. Felder made a tough, tough layup that forced the Golden Eagles to call timeout. 

The timeout didn't work, though, and Thornwell took over and made sure the long streak ended on Friday. The senior blocked a shot on the defensive end, then drove the court, drew the contact and converted the three-point play to give South Carolina an 87-69 lead with just under four minutes to play.

The fans inside the arena could feel the result coming, and it was a celebration for the rest of the night. 

"Things were building up, and we knew we needed to step up the intensity on defense," Notice said. "So we did, and we could feel them getting tense. Coach always says that when you have your feet on your opponent's neck, keep it there, and that's what happened." 

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