March 26, 2017
NEW YORK CITY -- South Carolina's special March run continued on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden as the Gamecocks (26-10) punched their ticket to the 2017 Final Four with a 77-70 win over Florida (27-9). The victory broke the single-season program record for wins, as senior Sindarius Thornwell carried the team with a game-high 26 points, seven rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes.
Carolina jumped out to a 6-4 lead thanks to four early points from freshman Maik Kotsar. A 3-pointer by Kasey Hill ended a nearly three minute scoring draught for the Gators and gave them a 7-6 lead at the first media timeout with 15:53 on the clock.
The Gamecocks retook the lead 11-9 after starting 4-for-5 (80 percent) from the field. They remained in front, 15-14, at the under 12 media timeout with 11:41 to go. Carolina scored eight of its first 15 points off seven Florida turnovers. Hot shooting was the story on both sides, as each team started 6-for-10. There were eight lead changes in the game's first 8:19.
South Carolina opened up its biggest lead of the game 18-14 with 11:24 to go in the first half and led 20-18 at the under eight media timeout with 7:30 remaining. Chris Chiozza knocked down the Gators' fourth-straight 3 to give them a four-point edge, 30-29 at the final media timeout with 3:01 left to play in the first 20 minutes.
Florida closed the half strong and took its biggest lead of the game, 38-30, after a 6-0 run with 48 seconds left. An and-1 by sophomore PJ Dozier on the other end pulled Carolina within five, 38-33 with 43 seconds remaining. Two free throws by Kevarrius Hayes put the Gators ahead 40-33 at the half.
Thornwell was spectacular in the first half for the Gamecocks, as he scored a game-high 15 points on 6-of-8 (75 percent) shooting. Dozier had a solid first 20 minutes as well, scoring nine points. Justin Leon led the way for the Gators with 13 points as he knocked down 3-of-5 from behind the arc. As a team, Florida shot 14-for-25 (56 percent) and 7-for-12 (58 percent) from behind the arc. They held a 17-11 edge on the glass at the half as well.
The Gamecocks surged within three, 46-43, at the first media timeout of the second half with 15:32 on the clock thanks to a 13-6 run. Kotsar had two buckets as Carolina started 4-for-6 (67 percent) out of the locker room. Two Chris Silva free throws got the Gamecocks within one, 46-45, with 14:53 to play. The foul on Silva put Carolina in the bonus the rest of the way.
With 11:28 to go, the Gamecocks regained the lead, 49-48, on a Kotsar tipin. It was Carolina's first lead since the 5:24 mark in half one. The Gamecocks stormed ahead holding Florida scoreless for 3:25 and to 3-of-14 shooting to start the second half. Florida retook the lead, 53-51, on an and-1 by Leon with 9:56 on the clock. The basket snapped an 0-for-10 draught for the Gators.
The Garden erupted as Thornwell put Carolina back in the lead 59-57 with a tough layup, forcing head coach Mike White to take a timeout with 5:27 left to play. The teams exchanged hoops and were tied 63-63 at the final media timeout with three minutes left to play. The Gamecocks' second half defense was stellar, holding Florida to 8-for-27 (30 percent) and 0-for-12 from 3 to that point.
Thornwell found Kotsar for a transition jumper at the free throw line as Carolina used a 6-0 run to go up four, 67-63, with 1:55 remaining in the game. A KeVaughn Allen free throw pulled the Gators within two, 70-68, with 53 seconds left. Florida got within four twice in the final minute, but two huge steals by Thornwell and Dozier late helped seal the historic victory for the Gamecocks.
Dozier (17), Silva (13) and Kotsar (12) joined Thornwell in double figures. Silva was just shy of a double-double, finishing with nine rebounds including four on the offensive end.
After trailing by seven at halftime, South Carolina outscored Florida 44-30 in the second half. The Gamecocks shot 52 percent (12-of-23) in the second half and held the Gators to 31 percent (11-for-35) in the final 20 minutes, including 0-for-14 from downtown.
The Gamecocks now face No. 1 seed Gonzaga (36-1) in the national semifinals on April 1 in Phoenix, Ariz. The Bulldogs won the NCAA West Regional with an 83-59 victory over Xavier in San Jose, Calif. on Saturday night. Jim Nantz (pxp), Grant Hill (color), Bill Rafferty (color) and Tracy Wolfson will be on the call for CBS. Tip time is set for 6:09 p.m. ET.
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