By Josh Adams, @NCAAHoopsDigest
New York, NY- South Carolina arrived at Madison Square Garden early on Saturday with a plan. Punch their opponent, the Baylor Bears in the mouth right away and not let up until the final buzzer. The #7 seed Gamecocks played their way into the Elite 8 with a commanding performance over #3 seed Baylor, 70-50.
South Carolina (25-10) got a 25 point game out of their superstar, Sindarius Thornwell and three other Gamecocks hit double figures as South Carolina stifled the Bears offense who frequently looked out of sorts due to the Gamecocks defense.
Thornwell is turning into a NCAA Tournament MVP candidate with his play. He was sidelined with a injury earlier in the season but has stepped up his game to elite level in this Tournament. Built like a power forward but with the moves of a shooting guard, his uniqueness as a player has made him a nightmare for Duke and now Baylor.
The Gamecocks are modeled after their coach, Frank Martin. Known for being one of the most intense sideline personalities in college basketball, Martin has mellowed a bit since his days ruling the sideline at Kansas State. His intensity is disciplined now, it’s still there but it comes in spurts when his team needs it. South Carolina plays with that same kind of discipline on defense. They don’t allow cheap buckets or easy rebounds. Let Thornwell describe the Gamecock philosophy on defense, ” We just tried our best to attack them and just to play hard. We knew that it — for them it starts with the first shot, it was the second shot with them. And we knew when the shot went up, we all had to find a body and put our body on somebody to make, so we could get the rebound.”
It sounds simple but so many teams lose sight of the fundamentals when the national spotlight is on them. The Gamecocks never lose sight of the basics. The extra pass, the boxing out and all the little things that add up to a victory. Martin called this year’s team the best defensive team he’s ever coached. He’s well aware that his style of play will never win any beauty contests. Now the Gamecocks have a huge chance to advance to the program’s first Final Four. For Martin, the son of Cuban immigrants, it could be the crowning achievement of a great career. If South Carolina does cut down the nets on Sunday, it’s a trip to Phoenix to play on college basketball’s main stage. A long journey for a team that has bought into their coach’s intensity. So far, no other team in the 2017 NCAA Tournament has been able to match it.