. . . and then there were 16

South Carolina stuns Duke to ad­vance to MSG

New York Post - - FRONT PAGE - By ZACH BRAZILLER zbraziller@ ny­post.com

Duke’s Luke Ken­nard can’t be­lieve what he’s watch­ing as South Carolina pulls away in the sec­ond half of the Game­cocks’ 88-81 up­set in the sec­ond round of the NCAA Tour­na­ment, set­ting off a cel­e­bra­tion be­tween for­ward Chris Silva and coach Frank Martin (inset). South Carolina will face Bay­lor in the Sweet 16.

GREENVILLE, S.C. — That sound you hear is all the air com­ing out of this week’s East Re­gional at Madi­son Square Gar­den.

Re­mem­ber all the buzz of a pos­si­ble Duke-Vil­lanova fi­nal next Sun­day? Gone, just like the two na­tional ti­tle con­tenders’ Fi­nal Four hopes. The NCAA Tour­na­ment is com­ing back to mid­town Man­hat­tan, but it won’t in­clude Vil­lanova, and it won’t in­clude Duke, the teams many pred­i­cated would meet next Sun­day with a Fi­nal Four spot on the line.

South Carolina, play­ing in front of a large home crowd a lit­tle more than 100 miles from its cam­pus, crashed the party Sun­day night, over­whelm­ing Duke in the sec­ond half, just as it did to Mar­quette on Fri­day night.

“We [weren’t pay­ing [any] at­ten­tion [to that],” se­nior star Sin­dar­i­ous Thorn­well said. “The whole time we felt like we [could] win. The only peo­ple that mat­tered is the peo­ple in our cir­cle, the peo­ple that’s at prac­tice with us, the peo­ple that’s been with us from the jump. They’ve seen us grind, they’ve been through ev­ery­thing we’ve been through in the sea­son.

“Those are the only peo­ple that mat­ter.”

Rid­ing the emo­tion of their first NCAA Tour­na­ment vic­tory in 44 years two nights ear­lier, the sev­enth-seeded Game­cocks up­set No. 2 Duke, 88-81, at rau­cous Bon Se­cours Well- ness Arena, join­ing No. 3 Bay­lor, 4 Florida, and No. 8 Wis­con­sin in the re­gional at the Gar­den. South Carolina had never ad­vanced to the Sweet 16 since the tour­na­ment ex­panded to 64 or more teams.

The Game­cocks owned the paint, outscor­ing the Blue Devils 30-18, and the glass, where they grabbed 15 of­fen­sive re­bounds. They de­fended Duke (28-9) bet­ter than any­one has in weeks. They chal­lenged ev­ery­thing — ev­ery pass, ev­ery shot, ev­ery drib­ble — and re­lent­lessly at­tacked at both ends. The Game­cocks (24-10) shot an un­con­scious 71 per­cent from the field in the sec­ond half and scored 65 points. They forced 18 turnovers, and held Duke stars Luke Ken­nard and Grayson Allen to a com­bined 6-of-19 shoot­ing from the field.

“It’s the tough­est de­fense we’ve played against all year,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Very phys­i­cal — ac­tu­ally the most phys­i­cal game we’ve been in all year.

“They’re well-coached. And they not only are good tech­nique-wise, but they add heart. They add tough­ness. They add all the in­tan­gi­bles that go with great tech­nique. And then they’re all com­mit­ted to it.”

The Blue Devils’ loss ends a sea­son that be­gan with talk of Duke be­ing a jug­ger­naut, in­cluded a sus­pen­sion for Allen for trip­ping op­po­nents, Krzyzewski miss­ing time af­ter back surgery, the team strug­gling mid­way through the sea­son be­fore catch­ing fire to win the ACC Tour­na­ment. But it didn’t lead to any more March magic.

Thorn­well, the SEC Player of the Year, made sure of that in con­tin­u­ing his big tour­na­ment, pro­duc­ing an­other all-en­com­pass­ing per­for­mance of 24 points, six re­bounds and five as­sists. New Jer­sey’s Chris Silva was dom­i­nant in­side, scor­ing 17 points and adding 10 re­bounds.

Sec­ond-half runs of 15-5 and 12-4 gave South Carolina a 64-55 lead with 6:36 left. Duke didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way, un­able to slow down the Game­cocks on the of­fen­sive end, and lack­ing the fire­power to make enough of a dent into the deficit.

“There was a point Amile Jef­fer­son was cry­ing af­ter ev­ery play,” said Brook­lyn prod­uct Rakym Felder, a fresh­man who came off the bench to score 15 points. “We thought they were giv­ing up, they were lay­ing down, so we kept at­tack­ing them.”

At the horn, South Carolina’s en­tire team ran to var­i­ous side­lines to cel­e­brate with its ma­roon-clad fans. South Carolina coach Frank Martin gave out hugs and hand­shakes. But af­ter­wards, the Game­cocks weren’t talk­ing like they were con­tent.

“We’re not sat­is­fied with just win­ning one game or this game,” Thorn­well said. “We’re in it; why not win it? Why not us? We feel like we can com­pete with any­body in the coun­try.”

Getty Im­ages

BLUE SWOON: Luke Ken­nard buries his head as he can’t bear to watch Justin McKie (right) and South Carolina slam their way past Duke and into the Sweet 16, where they will meet Bay­lor on Fri­day night at MSG.

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