NEW YORK (AP) — Apparently South Carolina is getting the hang of winning NCAA Tournament games.
The Gamecocks, who hadn’t won a tournament game since 1973, got their third this year. One more and it’s on to the Final Four.
“It’s a great win for the program,” Gamecocks guard Duane Notice said. “It’s a good feeling when we continue to make history and I think once we get a taste of it, we kind of get addicted and want to continue doing it.”
Sindarius Thornwell scored 24 points and seventh-seeded South Carolina cruised past third-seeded Baylor 70-50 on Friday night in the East Regional semifinals, the Bears’ worst NCAA Tournament loss.
The Gamecocks (25-10) were in control from the middle of the first half on, mixing defenses and hustling all over the Madison Square Garden court to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time.
“We have been real good defensively all year, we were on point definitely today,” Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said.
South Carolina will meet Florida, which beat Wisconsin 84-83 in overtime, on Sunday with that trip to the Final Four at stake. It will be an all-Southeastern Conference matchup with the teams having split two regular-season meetings.
DJ Dozier and Chris Silva had 12 points each and Notice added 11 for the Gamecocks.
Johnathan Motley had 18 points, 12 in the second half, for Baylor (27-8), which just couldn’t get any offense going. The Bears, who were ranked No. 1 for one week this season, missed 11 of their first 13 shots from the field and it didn’t get a whole lot better the entire game. They finished 17 for 56 from the field (30.4 percent), including 3 for 13 from 3-point range.
Thornwell made defending Motley sound easy.
“We stayed aggressive and made his catches hard and we knew that he likes to score in the paint and let his catches be extended outside, that way he got to take more than one dribble to score; he can’t just turn and shoot over the top of you,” Thornwell said.
Motley said the defense was “extremely tough.”
“That’s what they game-planned for. And they did a great job of executing their game plan. We couldn’t, really couldn’t buy a basket.”
South Carolina opened the second half on a 12-6 run to get the lead to 49-28. The largest lead was 63-41.
Baylor was able to close to 11 points but that was as tight as the game would get.
The Gamecocks went on a 16-0 run that lasted 7:44 in the first half. They turned a 15-15 tie into a 31-15 lead with 2:50 left in the first half. The Bears went 0 for 10 from the field and committed four turnovers in the run. South Carolina’s biggest lead of the half was 37-20 on a 3 by Notice with 29 seconds to play. It was 37-22 at halftime.
The Bears shot just 25 percent from the field in the first half (8 of 32) and committed seven turnovers.
“What they do is a great job of making it difficult and then basketball’s such a game of momentum and after you get off to a bad start, sometimes it’s hard to get in a rhythm or hard to get in a flow,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Martin is glad the rest of the country is getting to see the Gamecocks and their intense defense.
“It’s beautiful to us. Which is what matters,” he said. “I’m sure there’s people don’t like it. That’s their prerogative.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks came into the NCAA Tournament having lost five of seven. … The Gamecocks’ previous largest margin of victory in the NCAA Tournament was 78-70 over Texas Tech in the first round in 1973.
Baylor: The Bears came into the NCAA Tournament having lost four of seven. … This is the Bears’ fourth straight tournament appearance. They were trying for their third Elite Eight appearance. They lost to Duke in the round of eight in 2010 and to Kentucky in 2012. … Baylor was 9-1 against the Southeastern Conference since 2012-13. … Baylor’s previous worst loss in the NCAA Tournament was 69-52 to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in 2014. … The 22 points matched Baylor’s low for a half this season.
South Carolina will face Florida in an all-Southeastern Conference Elite Eight game on Sunday.