. . . and then there were 16
South Carolina stuns Duke to advance to MSG
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.”
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.