SOUTH CAROLINA 77, FLORIDA 70
South Carolina reaches the Final Four for the first time by beating Florida 77-70.
new york» South Carolina added a missing piece to its rich history in men’s basketball.
The school of Frank McGuire, Kevin Joyce, Brian Winters, Mike Dunleavy and Alex English is going to the Final Four for the first time.
Add the names Sindarius Thornwell and Frank Martin to the top of the list.
Thornwell’s 26 points and the Gamecocks’ swarming zone defense fueled a 77-70 victory over Florida on Sunday and a berth in the Final Four.
Martin, he of the booming voice and terrifying faces, led the seventhseeded Gamecocks to the biggest victory in school history and now they will face Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday in Glendale, Ariz.
“Anyone that’s in sports dreams of moments like this,” said Martin, who was doused with water and dancing as soon as he entered his team’s locker room. “It’s not something that you start dreaming it the year you win 25 games. You dream it every single day.”
The East Regional title game was as close as expected until the final minute. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Fourth-seeded Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55.
Thornwell, the East Regional’s MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a four-point lead. Thornwell, who scored eight consecutive points for the Gamecocks, was always where he needed to be — including making a steal with 40 seconds left that turned into a 73-68 lead.
“Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays,” Thornwell said.
South Carolina’s Duane Notice knew Thornwell would come through.
“He’s capable of doing anything on both sides of the basketball. So it doesn’t surprise me,” Notice said. “His senior leadership just kicked in. He don’t want us to lose. He don’t want our season to end.”
“Thornwell was just being Thornwell,” Florida coach Mike White said of the SEC player of the year. “He’s one of the best players in the country.”
P.J. Dozier added 17 points for the Gamecocks, Chris Silva scored 13 and Kotsar contributed 12.
Justin Leon scored 18 points for the Gators, who built a 40-33 halftime lead on 7-for-12 shooting from 3point range. But that was it. Florida was 0-for-14 behind the arc in the second half, a lot like the 0-for-17 effort the Gators (27-9) had in their first meeting with South Carolina this season.
“We still got our open looks,” Leon said, “but they just, I guess they just went farther than what they were in the first half.”
South Carolina, which forced Florida into 16 turnovers, finished 23-of31 at the free-throw line, including a 9-of-10 effort from Thornwell.
It was the third consecutive game the Gamecocks (26-10) were trailing at halftime and went on to win.
“We felt like we was doing the right things. We felt like everything was going good for us, it was just the ball wasn’t falling in, and we just needed a couple more stops,” Thornwell said. “So going into halftime, we always just buckled in and locked in on what we needed to do to win and took it one possession at a time.”
The Gators entered the game with a 44-24 record all time against the Gamecocks.
The South Carolina Gamecocks celebrate after defeating the Florida Gators on Sunday in the East Regional final at Madison Square Garden in New York.