Greenville – After narrowly missing out on the NCAA Tournament last year, the South Carolina men's basketball team came up with a slogan for this season – unfinished business.
The Gamecocks felt like they were robbed of a postseason berth last year after posting 24 regular season wins. South Carolina has been successful for most of this year, but something changed toward the end of the regular season. It seemed the Gamecocks weren't the same team, and as it turned out, they weren't.
"The goal all year was just to make it to the NCAA Tournament," senior Sindarius Thornwell said. "Coming down the stretch, we didn't really (feel) like we pressured ourselves…but I think we pressured ourselves too much about it. I think just being here, that pressure we brought on ourselves is gone now, and we can relax and just play."
Head coach Frank Martin agrees, and hopes the Gamecocks enter their Friday night game against 10th-seeded Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a simple mindset.
"Go out there and forget all the good and bad that's happened up to this point (and) trust in who you are," Martin said. "Do your job with an unbelievable commitment to it. And at the end of the day, enjoy the ride."
During their media availability on Thursday, the Gamecocks certainly seemed more relaxed. They enjoyed the press conference and had fun at the open practice. South Carolina had already practiced once earlier in the day, and treated the open practice like a shootaround while interacting with the fans.
Thornwell told the media that shortly before he and classmate Duane Notice walked into the interview room, Notice relayed to him that, "We should've been here all four years" in reference to the NCAA Tournament.
After the heartbreak of last season, the Gamecocks know how lucky they are to be in the position to win a NCAA Tournament game. It's particularly special for the trio of seniors (Notice, Thornwell and Justin McKie) who have helped build South Carolina into a formidable program.
Job No. 1 is to defeat the Golden Eagles, but South Carolina is not going to let a special moment slip away either.
"That's really what we talked about is just going out and having fun and embracing the moment," Thornwell said. "That's really it, forgetting about everything that's happened in the regular season and in the SEC Tournament and just going out and playing our game and enjoying every moment.
"Just glad we're going on."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**