GREENVILLE, S.C. -- It was another magical night for South Carolina (24-10) men's basketball as the team upset second-seeded Duke (28-9) 88-81 to advance to the school's first Sweet Sixteen in the current NCAA Tournament format. The Gamecocks exploded for 65 points in the second half and shot 71 percent (20-for-28) in the game's final 20 minutes. SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell led all scorers with 24 points and was one of five South Carolina players in double figures.
The Blue Devils took a 6-4 lead to start the game at the first media timeout with 15:57 to go. After trailing 11-6, Carolina went on an 8-2 run and took its first lead after freshman Rakym Felder knocked down a triple with 12:52 to put the Gamecocks in front 14-13.
Duke regained the lead, 18-14, at the under 12 media timeout with 11:11 on the clock as Grayson Allen scored seven points off the bench. Thornwell had seven of Carolina's first 14 points. The Blue Devils were already in the bonus at the 12:01 mark. Duke took advantage of a 5:09 scoring draught by the Gamecocks to extend its lead to seven, 21-14, at the next media timeout with 7:43 to go. Carolina started the game 5-for-23 (22 percent), while the Blue Devils were 6-for-11 (55 percent).
Duke remained in control 28-20 at the final media timeout with 3:45 to go in the first half. Senior Duane Notice connected from 3-point range to pull the Gamecocks within five, 28-23, with 2:39 left. Carolina cut the deficit with stellar defense, holding the Blue Devils Scoreless for nearly five minutes.
A pair of Allen free throws gave Duke a seven point advantage at halftime, 30-23. Thornwell was the only player on either side in double figures with 11 points. Allen led the way for the Blue Devils with nine. Duke shot 47 percent (8-for-17) and knocked down five 3s in the first half. The Gamecocks were 7-for-35 (20 percent).
Notice completed a 3-point play early in the second half to pull Carolina within five, 35-30 with 17:22 to play. Sophomore Chris Silva sunk two free throws to cut it to three, but the lead went back to six after a transition 3 by Allen. The Bon Secours Wellness Arena crowd erupted moments later, as a Notice steal led to a monster dunk by Silva on the other end. The jam was the Gamecocks fifth-consecutive field goal and got Carolina within one, 38-37, forcing head coach Mike Krzyzewski to take a timeout with 15:52 on the clock. A lob from Thornwell to Silva right out of the under 16 media timeout then gave the Gamecocks their first lead since Felder's 3 at the 12:40 mark of the first half.
Felder's second 3 of the game put Carolina up 48-44. Frank Jackson answered with a triple of his own on the other end, but Silva scored with contact to make it 54-51 at the under 12 media timeout with 10:43 remaining. Silva sunk the free throw out of the timeout, marking his 17th point of the game, a new career high. The Gamecocks came out of halftime firing on all cylinders offensively, shooting 12-for-16 (75 percent). Five-straight points from Notice pushed Carolina's lead to seven, 60-53, with 8:38 to play, forcing another Krzyzewski timeout.
A Notice layup put the Gamecocks ahead by double-digits for the first time in the game, 68-58, with 5:00 minutes to play. The lead stayed at 10, 70-60, at the final media timeout of the game with 3:30 remaining. Felder knocked down 1-of-2 at the free throw line to make the score 76-66 with 1:38 to go. Jayson Tatum hit a 3 on the next possession to pull Duke within seven, 76-69, but on the next play, Thornwell bypassed the Blue Devils' full-court pressure as he threw a baseball pass ahead to senior Justin McKie, who finished with an emphatic two-hand dunk to put the Gamecocks up by 10 again, 82-72, with 47 seconds on the clock.
Duke kept swinging, cutting the lead to five after an Amile Jefferson layup with 26.8 seconds remaining, but Carolina iced the win with clutch free throw shooting down the stretch. The Gamecocks ended the game 14-of-16 (88 percent) at the line in the game's final three minutes.
Silva tallied his fourth career double-double (all this season) with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Notice matched Silva with 17 points, 14 of them coming in the second half. Felder was crucial off the bench again, scoring 15 points and making 9-of-10 at the charity stripe.
South Carolina forced 18 Duke turnovers, tying the most all season for the Blue Devils (18 vs. Louisville on Jan. 14). The contest marked the 28th time this season the Gamecocks defense has forced at least 15 turnovers in a game.
The Gamecocks will now take on third-seeded Baylor (27-7) in the Sweet Sixteen at Madison Square Garden next Friday. Tipoff is set for 7:29 p.m. ET, with Verne Lundquist (pxp) Jim Spanarkel (color) and Allie LaForce (sideline reporter) on the call for TBS. The Bears advanced to New York with an 82-78 second round victory over Southern California on Sunday night.
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