College Sports

Corchiani enjoying South Carolina’s amazing ride to Final Four

South Carolina players including Tommy Corchiani (13), Jarrell Holliman (31) and TeMarcus Blanton (5) celebrate after beating Duke 88-81 in the second round of the NCAA tournament on March 19.
South Carolina players including Tommy Corchiani (13), Jarrell Holliman (31) and TeMarcus Blanton (5) celebrate after beating Duke 88-81 in the second round of the NCAA tournament on March 19. AP

Tommy Corchiani would love to tell you a story about how he saw South Carolina’s improbable NCAA tournament run coming.

How the freshman guard from Raleigh was confident in February the Gamecocks (26-10) would be in the Final Four, where the upstart No. 7 seed from the East regional will take on Gonzaga (36-1), the top seed from the West, on Saturday night (6:09 p.m., CBS) in Glendale, Ariz.

But that’s all it would be — a good story. It’s not that Corchiani, the son of former N.C State great Chris Corchiani, was worried about South Carolina’s NCAA tournament history. The Gamecocks hadn’t been to tournament since 2004 and hadn’t won a tournament game since 1972 before this month.

It’s just South Carolina was reeling on Feb. 7, after an excruciating quadruple-overtime home loss to Alabama.

“I’m not sure any of us saw it coming then,” said Corchiani, a 6-1, 173-pound walk-on who was a high school standout at Ravenscroft.

That marathon loss to Alabama was the first of six in the final nine games before the NCAA tournament for coach Frank Martin’s team. But the Gamecocks got a favorable in-state draw in Greenville for the first two rounds and scored 93 points in a first-round win over Marquette. That was 21 points better than the team’s season scoring average.

“The way we get after it on the defensive end, I figured we could be dangerous if we could finally get some shots to fall,” Corchiani said.

The Marquette game opened the flood gates and gave Corchiani his “One Shining Moment.” Corchiani has yet to play in the NCAA tournament but he got on the floor with 9:26 left in the Marquette win. The net in front of South Carolina’s bunch got tangled up. During a break, Corchiani ran onto the floor and jumped up and fixed the net. The TV crew didn’t give him a shoutout but the official NCAA “March Madness” Twitter account posted the clip on their timeline.

AOL.com also included Corchiani on its list of the “most attractive” players in the tournament. At 19, Corchiani isn’t quite old enough to remember the online pioneer’s prime.

“I didn’t know what AOL was,” Corchiani said.

As for the actual basketball highlight of the tournament, a shocking 88-81 win over Duke was it for Corchiani, who grew up a Wolfpack fan. After falling behind 30-23 at the half to Duke in the second round, the Gamecocks scored 65 points in the second half to knock out the favored ACC champions.

“Now that was cool, beating Duke,” Corchiani said. “The crowd was wild. The UNC fans were helping, too.”

The Duke upset put the Gamecocks in the Sweet 16, which matched the deepest tournament run of his dad’s standout career at N.C. State (which ended with a controversial loss to Georgetown in 1989) and of his older brother, Chris Jr., who was a freshman on the Wolfpack’s Sweet 16 team in 2015.

But South Carolina didn’t stop at the Sweet 16. The Gamecocks handled Baylor, 70-50, in the regional semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York and then beat SEC rival Florida to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.

“Tommy one-upped us with the Final Four,” Chris Jr. said. “He’s definitely got family bragging rights.”

There might have to be a family one-on-one tournament this summer to give dad and big brother a shot at redemption.

“I don’t know who would win,” the elder Corchiani said. “Tommy is about four inches taller but Christopher is quicker. I do know that I wouldn’t win.”

While Tommy is the best shooter in the family, according to Chris Jr., there’s no doubt who would emerge from the family bracket.

“I would take care of Tommy,” said Chris Jr., who is 22. “I have older-brother mental edge on him.”

Tommy, of course, has a different opinion.

“I’ll post up little Chris and blow by old Chris,” Tommy said.

Ouch, “little Chris” and “old Chris,” those are fighting words. Those family disputes will have to be settled this summer. The whole crew will be in Glendale for the Gamecocks on Saturday.

No one could be happier for South Carolina’s success than the elder Corchiani. He has been friends with Gamecocks coach Frank Martin for almost 30 years. Before he was the first player in NCAA history with 1,000 assists, at N.C. State from 1987 through ’91, Corchiani played at Miami Lakes High in Florida and Martin was the JV coach at rival Miami High.

“I keep pinching myself, I can’t believe this is really happening,” said Chris Sr., who went to the tournament games in New York. “It has been an amazing ride. The best part is it’s not over yet.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Final Four

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 7 South Carolina

When: 6:09 p.m., Saturday

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

TV: CBS

No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 3 Oregon

When: Approx. 8:50 p.m., Saturday

Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.

TV: CBS

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