Greenville – The South Carolina players are not shying away from what could be on Friday night against Marquette in the NCAA Tournament.
The seventh-seeded Gamecocks take on the 10th-seeded Golden Eagles looking for their first NCAA Tournament win in 44 years. There have been several postseason appearances since 1973, but a win has eluded South Carolina ever since.
Longtime equipment manager Mac Credille was around for that last NCAA Tournament win, and the Gamecocks want to give him another after a long layoff.
"Those who know who Mac is, he's been around the program longer than anybody I know," Sindarius Thornwell said. "He came and talked to us and told us how much it means to him for us just to make the tournament and how much it would mean for us to win that first game."
That talk was on Wednesday, and head coach Frank Martin has also done all he can to get his players ready for the big game. Martin went to four NCAA Tournaments in five seasons as head coach of Kansas State, and won at least one game in the postseason every single year.
Martin said the key to success is having experienced guys who know what it takes, and South Carolina has relied heavily on three seniors this year – Thornwell, Duane Notice and Justin McKie.
In his fifth year, this is obviously the first year that Martin was able to get the Gamecocks into the NCAA Tournament.
"I showed them a picture of me on March 27th, 2012, which is right after I coached my last NCAA game, and I showed them a picture of me last Sunday, and I told them, 'If it takes five years between appearances, this is how you look,'" Martin joked. "I've tried to share what I know, what I've lived, what our players that I've coached that have been in it, what they shared with me."
That wisdom from an experienced coach should do nothing but benefit the South Carolina players. Kansas State was in a similar position when Martin took over to where the Gamecocks were when Martin made the switch to Columbia. He was able to make the Wildcats into a frequent visitor to the postseason, and this could be the start of a special run for South Carolina.
"To be able to be a part of a team that returns makes it fun, personally," Martin said. "One day I'll sit back and say, 'You know what? It feels pretty good that you can take two different programs that hadn't been a part of (NCAA Tournament) and you were a part of the team that went back."
There have been a lot of great players and coaches that have come through the South Carolina program over the last 44 years. When the Gamecocks take the court against Marquette on Friday, the current Gamecocks squad will be playing for everyone that's given their blood, sweat and tears to South Carolina over the last four decades.
"Nothing would make me happier for us to eventually break that," Martin said of the 44-year drought. "Not for me selfishly, that doesn't do anything for me, but for all those former guys and our administrators and former coaches that sacrificed. Getting here is hard. Winning here is even harder. To be able to accomplish that I think would soothe a lot of people. It would make a lot of people smile."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**