Gamecocks win on Senior Night: 'Wish we could stay on the court forever'

Gamecocks win on Senior Night: 'Wish we could stay on the court forever'

Jenny Dilworth photos

Allen Sharpe photos

Box Score (South Carolina Athletics Media Relations) 

Facing a pesky Mississippi State team on Senior Night, South Carolina found itself on the ropes late in the game on Tuesday, Feb. 28. The Gamecocks had just given up a 10-point lead to the Bulldogs, who led by two points with 4:18 remaining in the game.

In a fitting turn of events, senior Sindarius Thornwell immediately tied the game and moments later another senior, Duane Notice, drilled a 3-pointer off an assist from Thornwell to give Mississippi State an insurmountable deficit. 

The Gamecocks went on to win, 63-57, sending Thornwell, Notice and Justin McKie off victorious in their final game at Colonial Life Arena. 

"I threw it to him and I was like, 'knock that down, Duane,'" recalled Thornwell about Notice's big shot. "That was the turning point of the game right there." 

After the win most of the student section stayed behind to chant "MVP" at Thornwell, who scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half, as he was interviewed by ESPNU. He and the rest of the seniors then went around the court shaking hands and basking in their final gameday moment at the home arena. 

"It was an emotional feeling," Notice said. "You just see everyone who was there to support us, and the growth that we've had over the years from the fans. I know we appreciate it. It was a surreal moment, something that you can't take back. Wish we could stay on the court forever. 

"It felt good, man," Thornwell added. "A couple tears came up in my eyes, but I looked around and nobody else shed any tears so I had to hold mine in. It felt good just to get the win." 

The win was not just important for sentimental reasons. It gave South Carolina (22-8, 12-5 SEC) a double-bye in the upcoming SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks won't have to play until the quarterfinals on Friday, March 10. 

"I want to play on Saturday (semifinals)," head coach Frank Martin said. "We've never made it to Saturday. We've played on Friday three consecutive years. Getting past Friday is hard because those top eight teams in this league are real good."  

The Gamecocks came out firing from long range to start the game, but didn't get any to go down. However, they had Chris Silva to rely on. The sophomore was a force to be reckoned with as he scored South Carolina's first three points and had three offensive rebounds and four total rebounds in less than three minutes to start the game.

After a Silva free throw, Thornwell's tip-in gave South Carolina its first lead of the game at 6-5. The Gamecocks would continue to play great defense as they forced the Bulldogs (14-15, 5-12 SEC) into more and more turnovers.

That allowed South Carolina to extend its lead to 10-5 after two Silva free throws. Mississippi State had seven turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game, but a couple of 3-pointers, including one by Mario Kegler, allowed the Bulldogs to trim the Gamecock lead down to 12-11 at the under-12 media timeout. 

Mississippi State would ultimately score seven unanswered points to take a 15-12 lead, but then Silva took over again. He took a missed free throw by Maik Kotsar and dunked over two Bulldog defenders to tie the game. A PJ Dozier layup would give the Gamecocks the lead back, but it would be back and forth from there for the rest of the first half.

Every time South Carolina took a two or three-point lead, the Bulldogs would answer to tie the game again. In fact, Mississippi State would momentarily take a 29-26 lead before it was Dozier's turn to answer. After the Gamecocks missed their first 10 three-point attempts, the sophomore drained one to tie the game back up. A Kotsar layup and Thornwell free throw sent South Carolina into halftime with a 32-29 lead.

Silva's 11 points and seven rebounds in the first half led the Gamecocks, who made 9-of-30 (30 percent) field goals. Mississippi State knocked down 11-of-25 (44 percent) field goals in the first half. 

Thornwell had just five points in the first half, but Martin obviously preached to his team during the halftime break to drive the ball, and that's exactly what Thornwell did to start the second half.

The senior posted up several times, getting a basket one time and two fouls the others. He made all four free throws before draining a spot-up 3-pointer to put South Carolina up, 41-33. Thornwell scored South Carolina's first nine points of the second half. Kotsar's layup made it a 10-point game for the first time, and Thornwell spotted up for a long jumper moments later that made it 45-35 and forced the Bulldogs to call a timeout.

Mississippi State's Tyson Carter nailed back-to-back threes to cut the Gamecock lead back to just four points, however. South Carolina freshman Rakym Felder buried a trey to make it a seven-point game, but a five and a half minute long scoring drought for the Gamecocks allowed the Bulldogs to take the lead. 

A 9-0 run was capped by a Carter 3-pointer that put Mississippi State on top, 52-50. Thornwell broke the long scoring drought with a pair of free throws to tie the game with around four minutes left. 

A pair of free throws staked South Carolina to a two-point lead, and the defense forced a turnover on the other end. Unable to make a shot for the first 37 minutes of the game, the senior Notice stepped up to knock down a three that gave the Gamecocks a five-point lead. 

Mississippi State answered right back, but one of the other seniors stepped up, and it was the one who has been doing it many times all season long. Thornwell drove into the lane and somehow got an extremely tough layup to fall to make it a five-point game again.

From there, the Gamecocks were able to hold on for the victory that gave them the second-most SEC wins (12) ever in a single season. 

Thornwell was once again the steady presence with his 22 points and six rebounds while Silva finished with a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds). South Carolina made 17-of-50 (34 percent) field goals while Mississippi State made 20-of-55 (36.4 percent). 

South Carolina's regular season finale is on Saturday, March 4, at Ole Miss. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network. 

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**