South Carolina used a stifling defense to defeat the Baylor Bears and reach the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
NEW YORK — The way South Carolina wins is not always aesthetically pleasing.
The team’s unquestioned strength is its defense, ferocious and relentless and frustrating for any and all opponents. This leads to opponents forcing shots, making poor shot selections and, eventually, facing a sense of inevitability — that the scoring will never come easy, and it won’t come often enough to win the game.
This is how the No. 7 seeded Gamecocks beat first No. 10 Marquette in the NCAA tournament’s first round, and then how they shocked No. 2 Duke to reach the Sweet 16.
BOX SCORE: Gamecocks 70, Bears 50
But never was the blueprint followed so perfectly as it was Friday night at Madison Square Garden against No. 3 Baylor — at least in the first half — en route to a 70-50 win to advance to the Elite Eight.
South Carolina’s stifling defense held the Bears to just 25% shooting from the field in the first half (and just 30% for the game), and the offense went on a 16-0 first-half run that gave the Gamecocks all the cushion they’d need for the entire game.
“(Our style of play) is beautiful to us, which is what matters,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said. “I’m sure there are people who don’t like it. That’s their prerogative. … For us, we love it. This is what gives us our edge.
“This is the best defensive team I’ve coached in college basketball.”
South Carolina’s do-everything senior guard Sindarius Thornwell was, once again, far and away the best player on the court. He led all scorers with 24 points to go along with six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
When Baylor threatened to get back into the game — with a 10-0 run midway through the second half — Thornwell was the one to personally stop it, with a three.
South Carolina will continue its improbable run on Sunday, taking on the winner of Florida-Wisconsin for a trip to the Final Four. It will be the Gamecocks’ first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
“It’s a good feeling when we continue to make history and I think once we got a taste of it we kind of got addicted,” guard Duane Notice said. “So we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we keep doing that.”
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SWEET 16