South Carolina Gamecocks are the surprise of the Final 4

Published 8:17 am Monday, March 27, 2017

Gonzaga is in its first Final Four but the Zags had knocked on the door a few times. South Carolina, meanwhile, enters its first Final Four having never been close to this deep a run.

The Gamecocks reached their first national semifinals the same season they reached their first Sweet 16, coming in as the seventh seed from the East.

South Carolina guard Duane Notice said his team’s run is no surprise.

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“Everybody’s always picking against us,” Notice said Sunday after his team beat fourth-seeded Florida 77-70 at Madison Square Garden. “We’re focused as a team, we’re focused on the next game ahead every time. The way we play defense, you can put any school – big or small – against us.”

They were a slight favorite against Marquette in the opening round but were a decided underdog against second-seeded Duke in the round of 32.

That was the first of three games where the Gamecocks, who will face Gonzaga in the Final Four, showed their mettle.

“We’re not going to settle for this and we still feel, like, we got one more game,” regional MVP Sindarius Thornwell said with one of the nets draped around his neck. “We’re still going into that game thinking we can win. Why not? Why not us? Why not go win it all?”

If Thornwell keeps playing like the SEC player of the year as voted by the coaches, anything might be possible. He is averaging 25.8 points in the tournament and he has come up with every big play the Gamecocks have needed as they have rallied from three halftime deficits during their run.

“That’s why we’re sitting here right now, because they don’t pay attention to that nonsense,” coach Frank Martin said of the non-believers. “They believe in each other. They’re completely invested into each other. Not winning. Each other, which then allows you to win. And they’re powerful kids, man, powerful kids.”

They have been powerful enough to take South Carolina to its first Final Four. And then we’ll see what happens.

“These last two weeks, when we got our name in, (Martin) said we been listening to him all season and don’t stop now because we got our name on the board,” Thornwell said. “So when he said that, we all locked in and didn’t listen to any outsiders, didn’t listen to anybody else but Coach.

“We trusted in him in everything,” Thornwell said. “We had this thing where don’t let go of the rope, no matter what happens, no matter the outcome of anything, don’t let go of that rope.”