2017 East Region Elite 8: Gamecocks Keeps Marching

 

NEW YORK, NY – The stage was set in Madison Square Garden for an all SEC matchup in the Elite 8. The South Carolina Gamecocks and the Florida Gators were set to duke it out for a date with Gonzaga in the Final Four. Fans from both schools filed into the worlds most famous arena ready to cheer on their student-athletes.

Early on one thing was apparent, defense was going to be on full display for the duration of the contest. No easy shots, easy catches, or easy drives would be allowed as these two familiar SEC schools had the same plan in mind, advance.

With 15:53 left in the first half, the Gators led 7-6. After a hectic play that resulted in an extended possession for the Gators, Kevaughn Allen knocked in a three. Prior to that bucket, Florida was held scoreless for 2:03 and had three turnovers as well.

The Gamecocks scoring came from Sindarius Thornwell and big man Maik Kotsar who netted four points himself. After great ball pressure from Thornwell, he corralled a rebound and pushed the ball ahead. His teammates rewarded his effort as he walked into a trail three that he knocked down to give the Gamecocks a 9-7 lead with 14:58 left.

The Gators then went on a small run, converting their next three field goals capped by a Canyon Barry back cut layup. The Gamecocks however answered back with a rally of their own. PJ Dozier converted a fast break lay up, then a tough fall away jumper to give the Gamecocks a 15-14 advantage with 11:41 left in the first half.

Early in the game it was evident that turnovers would play a major role in the game. Florida committed eight turnovers that led to 11 points for the Gamecocks. South Carolina committed six that led to just four points for Florida. With 7:30 left in the first half, South Carolina was nursing a 20-18 lead.

Sindarius Thornwell had his fingerprints all over the game, scoring nine points and corralling two rebounds, one offensive board that led to a put back. The Gators then went on a quick 6-0 run capped by a Devin Robinson three.

The pace of the game began to pick up as both teams traded punches, neither willing to lay down. Chris “Cheese” Chiozza knocked down a bank shot three with the shot clock expiring to give the Gators a 32-28 advantage with 3:01 left in the first half.

The Gamecocks were thriving in the paint early, scoring 18 of their 28 points in the paint to just six for the Gators. In the late moments of the first half the Gators went on another 6-0 run before PJ Dozier answered back with a three point play to stop the bleeding.

At the half the Gators led 40-33 behind hot shooting from deep. The Gators shot 58 percent from three and 54 percent from the field overall. Despite losing the points in the paint battle, 22-8, the Gators weathered the early storm to hold the seven point lead. Justin Leon led the Gators with 13 first half points, shooting 5-7 from the field and 3-5 from long distance.

The Gamecocks came out of halftime focused and relax, going on an immediate run that stemmed from their defense. The once seven point deficit turned into just a three point one, 42-39 with 17:30 left. The Gamecock faithful rose to their feet as their team began to make a push.

Kasey Hill responded with a walk down jumper over Kotsar to stem the tide for the Gators. Kotsar responded immediately with a baseline jumper to make the score 46-43 with 15:32 left in the contest.

With 14:53 left in the game, the Gators were in the penalty. Big man Chris Silva was working early and often in the second half, sinking two free throws to bring the Gamecocks within just one point as the crowd began to roar.

The hot shooting Gators began to cool off, as their three point percentage dwindled to 35 percent, and field goal percentage dropped to 44. The Gamecocks ball pressure and frenzied defense propelled them to a one point lead, 49-48, with 11:03 left.

The Gators were held scoreless over the last 3:25 of game action, making just one field goal prior. The Gators shot an abysmal 2-14 over a long stretch in the second half.

With 6:55 left in the game, the Gators were up 55-53. The Gamecocks were in a funk of their own, held scoreless from the field over the last 2:04. The parade to the free throw line helped however, as Thornwell sunk two to tie the game at 55 with 6:55 left.

Thornwell muscled his way to a lay up from the mid-post to give his team a two point cushion with 5:27 left. Huge play after huge play occurred, with 3:00 left in the game it was 63 all.

After a stellar defensive possession for the Gamecocks, none other than Sindarius Thornwell came away with the ball. A spin move to the rim drew a foul as he sunk both free throws to give the Gamecocks a two-point advantage.

A Gator turnover allowed Thornwell to drive the ball middle, where he found Kotsar just inside the free throw line. The lefty sunk the baby jumper and gave the Gamecocks a four point lead, 67-63 with 1:55 left.

A quick Gator duck in by Kevarrius Hayes brought the Gator deficit to just two. A cheap foul by Chris Chiozza sent PJ Dozier to the line where he pushed the lead back to four, 69-65.

A thunderous slam from Duane Notice all but sealed the victory for the Gamecocks. His flush sent the South Carolina fans into a frenzy as cheers showered Madison Square Garden.

SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell scored eight straight points when Florida was up 55-53. When asked about that run and him potentially being a underrated player Thornwell stated, “I just made plays, I was in a situation where i just made plays. I feel like our team is the most underrated tea as a whole.”

The Gamecocks will be likely be penned as a one man band centered around Thornwell, but they are much more than that. The Gamecocks had four players averaging double figures for a large part of the season. While they are powered by Thornwell, its much more than just his show.

The Gamecocks are set to face the Gonzaga Bulldogs next weekend with a National Championship birth on the line.

 

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