Behind stellar defense, South Carolina beats Baylor to advance to Elite Eight

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South Carolina guard Rakym Felder (4) reacts in the second half against Baylor during an East Regional semifinal game of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Friday, March 24, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
South Carolina guard Rakym Felder (4) reacts in the second half against Baylor during an East Regional semifinal game of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, Friday, March 24, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK – South Carolina punched its ticket to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history with a 70-50 win over Baylor in the East Regional Semifinal at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.

The Gamecocks (25-10) utilized ferocious defense to shut down the Bears (27-8) and their leading scorer Johnathan Motley. Frank Martin’s team held Baylor scoreless for a nearly eight-minute stretch in the first half, going on an 18-0 run to seize a 31-15 lead that it wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the game.

Gamecocks senior guard Sindarius Thornwell led all scorers with 24 points, while adding six rebounds and two assists.

Thornwell, who is the No. 33 prospect in this year’s NBA draft according to DraftExpress.com, has scored in double figures in every game this season and has elevated his game when it matters most, topping the 20-point mark in each of South Carolina’s three NCAA Tournament games.

The win over No. 3-seeded Baylor is the second consecutive upset for No. 7 seed South Carolina, which had already turned in one of the biggest upsets of the tournament when it bounced No. 2 Duke, 88-81 in the second round.

South Carolina’s deepest tournament run prior to this year came in 1973, when it made the regional semifinals in a 25-team field. The Gamecocks hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game prior to 2017 since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

The Gamecocks will face the winner of Wisconsin-Florida on Sunday night at MSG, looking to advance to the first Final Four in school history.

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