GREENVILLE, S.C. — The Blue Devils are done. The Gamecocks are in. And the New York regional is going to be really lacking in star power next weekend.
Seventh-seeded South Carolina knocked off Duke, one of the tournament favorites, 88–81, with a furious second half where the Gamecocks shot 71% and missed just eight shots. For Duke, it likely spelled the end of Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Harry Giles and Grayson Allen on the team along with the graduations of Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones.
With the win, South Carolina advances to its first Sweet 16 since 1973, when the NCAA tournament only had 32 teams. The Gamecocks will join Florida, Wisconsin and Baylor—their opponent next week—in what appears to be an underwhelming regional on paper.
Meanwhile, the vaunted Atlantic Coast Conference enters the Sweet 16 with a 7–8 record in this year’s NCAA tournament. North Carolina will be the ACC’s only representative when play resumes next weekend. Here are three things from Sunday night’s upset win in South Carolina.
1. Get to know Sindarius Thornwell
The newly crowned SEC Player of the Year led all scorers with 24 points Sunday night after scoring 29 against Marquette on Friday. He said he came into the game without feeling pressure as the underdogs, and he played like it. The senior nailed two free throws down the stretch as he heard chants of MVP intermittently from the pro-Gamecock crowd.
Thornwell averaged 21.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season and was labeled the “best, unheralded, great player in the United States” by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski earlier this week. Now you know why.
2. Harry Giles’ one-year college career is mercifully over
The former No. 1 recruit couldn’t buy minutes in his two NCAA tournament appearances. He played six minutes against Troy and had zero points, two turnovers and three fouls. Giles didn’t fare much better against South Carolina, getting blanked on the offensive end in 10 minutes of work.
Mike Krzyzewski called Giles “young” after his first tournament game, a descriptor that was apt in his second one, too, when he got just 4 second-half minutes. Giles suffered two ACL injuries in his high school years that have clearly affected him and, save for a good ACC tournament, never seemed to fit into Duke’s rotation comfortably.
An NBA team should and likely will take Giles in the first round based solely off potential, but that’s why he needs to run to the NBA. He may not ever return to the self he promised three years ago, but he’s still worth taking that risk.
3. Frank Martin deserves your respect
You’ve probably forgotten about Frank Martin ever since he went to Columbia in 2012. He owned the sidelines in Manhattan, Kansas, for five years, taking Kansas State to the NCAA tournament four times then (including one Elite Eight). But since coming to South Carolina, he’s garnered little attention.
Martin has coached successfully with almost no NBA talent (the last time one of his players was drafted was 2008). This year, he has slowly built a Sweet 16 team in South Carolina based around Thornwell and great defense. The Gamecocks rank fifth in the country in turnovers forced per game (17.3) and fifth in 3-point percentage defense (29.7%). South Carolina turned Duke over 18 times and allowed the Blue Devils to shoot 37% beyond the arc.
With the win against Marquette, Martin did what Eddie Fogler and Dave Odom couldn’t and brought home an NCAA tournament win to Columbia. Now he’s doing what only Frank McGuire has done for the Gamecocks by getting them to the Sweet 16.
“You don’t trick your way into the NCAA tournament,” Martin said Saturday. “You don’t trick your way into winning in the NCAA tournament. You earn your way into that.”
Martin’s earned his.