On Dec. 12, South Carolina played in New York City at the famous Madison Square Garden. It was a game against Seton Hall that everyone on the team was looking forward to.
However, there was one player that was forced to sit on the sideline for the contest. Senior Sindarius Thornwell had recently been suspended for a violation of athletic department policy, and therefore was not able to play in his dream arena.
Not only was he forced to watch the game from the bench, he was forced to watch the Gamecocks lose a close game to Seton Hall without the ability to help his team at all.
Thornwell went on to return from his suspension four games later, and proceeded to have a fantastic season where he was named the SEC Player of the Year and helped the Gamecocks make their first NCAA Tournament in 13 years. But on Friday, March 24, Thornwell will have a second opportunity to play at one of the meccas of college basketball.
The Gamecocks face Baylor in the Sweet 16 at none other than Madison Square Garden, and it could not be more fitting for Thornwell and his teammates.
"We played in the Garden earlier this year, but I didn't play," Thornwell said. "It hurt me so much. It's always been a place I've wanted to play at. The great players play at the Garden, the great players step up and make big plays in the Garden. I felt like I always deserved one of those opportunities, and our team deserved one of these opportunities. We've worked so hard all season from the summer workouts to preseason to now. We never stopped, we never quit and just kept it going. I feel like our team deserved it."
Thornwell has worked hard to recover from his mistake earlier in the year, and it's done nothing to hurt his image with his teammates or coaches. The Lancaster native has done everything he can to help lead the Gamecocks to where they are currently.
"God is good," head coach Frank Martin said. "God rewards people who aren't perfect, but handle their business the right way. He's handled his business the right way, and he gets an opportunity to play in the place that he always wanted to play at. He gets to play in it on the second-biggest stage with the Final Four being the biggest."
South Carolina upset perennial power Duke in Greenville to advance to the Sweet 16, and also delivered a 20-point defeat to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks are playing great basketball on both sides of the floor right now, and they'll face a Baylor team that is similar to themselves.
While not many people expected South Carolina to advance even this far, the Gamecocks are not going to put a limit on what they can accomplish this March – or April.
In the locker room following the Duke win, Martin told his team, "Let's win this thing."
"I wanted those kids to believe that (they've) earned the right to go to the Sweet 16, (and) that means you're good enough to play anyone in the country," Martin said. "I thought it would be a powerful moment to let them know. It doesn't mean we're going to win it, but I believe we can win it."
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Artie Walker**