Cinderella Wears Spurs: Gamecocks in Final Four

Seventh-seeded South Carolina continued its Cinderella run through the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Sunday, rallying in the second half for the fourth straight game to defeat fourth-seeded Florida 77-70 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

South Carolina reached the Final Four for the first time in school history. The Gamecocks will face top-seeded Gonzaga in the semifinals on Saturday in Glendale, AZ.

The victory broke the single-season program record for wins at 26-10, as senior Sindarius Thornwell carried the team with a game-high 26 points, seven rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes.

In a familiar theme for the Gamecocks during this magical tournament run, South Carolina trailed by seven at halftime before turning it on the second half. The Gamecocks also trailed against Marquette, Duke and Baylor in the first three rounds.

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.

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.

Photo courtesy of NCAA

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