GREENVILLE, S.C. For 44 years they waited. And on Friday night, the South Carolina fans who filled Bon Secours Wellness Arena were rewarded.
Playing in their first NCAA tournament game in 13 years, the Gamecocks, the No. 7 seed in the West Region, defeated No. 10 seed Marquette, 93-73, in the first round. The victory marked South Carolina’s first in the NCAA tournament since 1973.
However, early on in Friday’s game, it looked as if that drought would continue.
Marquette (19-13) seized the lead on a 4-point play about two minutes in and never surrendered it in the first half. Behind a 5-for-8 start on 3-pointers, the Golden Eagles stretched their advantage to as many as 10 points.
But no matter how much South Carolina (23-10) trailed in the first half, the partisan crowd seemed to provide the Gamecocks with an energy boost whenever they needed it most. They went 8-for-11 from the field to finish the half and entered halftime trailing 40-39.
That momentum carried over into the second half. After the Golden Eagles seized a 49-44 lead, South Carolina responded with a pivotal 13-0 run.
Marquette hung around, cutting the Gamecocks’ lead to one point with about 11 minutes left. That, however, was as close as the Golden Eagles would get, as South Carolina went on a late 16-0 run to ultimately secure the win and send the arena into a frenzy.
Three who mattered
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell, the SEC Player of the Year, scored 19 of his game-best 29 points in the second half. He also added 11 rebounds.
P.J. Dozier, South Carolina: He scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half and had a couple of momentum-shifting dunks.
Rakym Felder, South Carolina: Although he finished with just seven points, he seemed to make timely shots whenever the Gamecocks needed them.
▪ After Marquette turned the ball over just six times in the first half, the Gamecocks forced 12 turnovers in the second, leading to 18 points. They finished with a 25-7 edge in points off turnovers.
▪ South Carolina dominated in the paint, where it outscored the Golden Eagles 42-20.
▪ Friday’s game marked Marquette’s first in the NCAA tournament under coach Steve Wojciechowski, who spent 14 seasons as an assistant at Duke before taking the job with the Golden Eagles in 2014.
▪ With the win, the Gamecocks will face No. 2 seed Duke on Sunday after the conclusion of the Arkansas-North Carolina game, which tips off at 6:10 p.m. Both games will be televised on TNT.
They said it
“It was great. It helped the momentum when (Dozier) got those couple fastbreak dunks and the atmosphere went crazy. It just gave us the confidence we needed to get over the edge and push through the final minutes of the game.” – Thornwell on the crowd.
“The coaching staff continues to tell me to stay aggressive, attack the rim. Being 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7, that’s what you have to do. You have to put pressure on the rim, and I feel like that’s when I play my best basketball.” – Dozier.
“I knew if we could build it — and it was a big if — but if we could build it and we play the kind of basketball that I like my team to play, that our fans would absolutely love it. And it’s starting to happen. We’re not there yet, but it’s starting to happen.” – coach Frank Martin on the growing excitement around the program.
SOUTH CAROLINA 93, MARQUETTE 73
MARQUETTE (19-13): Heldt 0-1 0-0 0, Wilson 2-5 0-0 4, Howard 5-10 0-0 13, Hauser 4-7 2-2 12, Rowsey 3-9 5-6 13, Fischer 4-6 0-0 8, Cheatham 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 5-9 3-4 16, Reinhardt 2-7 2-2 7, Marotta 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-54 12-14 73.
SOUTH CAROLINA (23-10): Silva 3-6 4-4 10, Kotsar 4-9 1-2 9, Notice 4-12 0-0 10, Dozier 9-14 2-6 21, Thornwell 10-19 6-7 29, Keita 0-0 0-0 0, Gravett 1-3 0-0 2, Blanton 0-0 0-0 0, Hinson 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 2-2 0-0 5, Felder 3-4 0-0 7. Totals 36-69 13-19 93.
Halftime—Marquette 40-39. 3-Point Goals—Marquette 11-28 (Johnson 3-5, Howard 3-6, Hauser 2-4, Rowsey 2-7, Reinhardt 1-6), South Carolina 8-24 (Thornwell 3-6, Notice 2-10, McKie 1-1, Felder 1-2, Dozier 1-3, Gravett 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Marquette 26 (Johnson, Fischer 6), South Carolina 35 (Thornwell 11). Assists—Marquette 12 (Howard, Johnson 3), South Carolina 18 (Notice, Dozier, McKie 4). Total Fouls—Marquette 20, South Carolina 13.