Final Four: Martin talks pressure, Thornwell and playing in big stadiums

Scott Hood,
Gamecock Central

Chris Gillespie, Gamecock Central

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Sindarius Thornwell was ill and missed South Carolina’s closed practice Thursday inside cavernous University of Phoenix Stadium.

Any coach with a different background would be feeling enormous pressure trying to prepare his team for the biggest basketball game of their young lives without the presence of his star player.

Not Martin.

He understands what pressure is, and in his view coaching basketball in front of 60,000 fans and a worldwide TV audience with the national championship on the line isn’t pressure.

“I'm not one of those guys that believes in pressure when you're playing the game,” Martin, a former math teacher in Miami, said Thursday during a press conference at UOP Stadium. “I said this a long time ago and I'll say it again. You know what pressure is? 35 students, 27 desks, 18 textbooks, 180 days. You've got to educate every single kid in that classroom for 180 days. That's pressure.”

Thornwell fell ill on Wednesday’s flight to Phoenix and has been under the care of team doctors since then. The Gamecocks practiced Thursday on the main court at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Martin hinted Thursday Thornwell might have been able to practice, but as a matter of precaution he kept the Lancaster, SC native off the court to make absolutely sure he is physically ready to go on Saturday.

“He had a little body temperature last night when we landed,” Martin said. “He was a little better this morning. But I told our trainer to just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now.

“He's our most intelligent player. I don't mean to demean our other guys saying that. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn't need to be on the practice court to understand what we're doing.”

Located about 15 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix and with a listed seating capacity of 76,000, University of Phoenix Stadium can easily intimidate young college basketball players more familiar with playing in venues seating less than 20,000.

Martin is all about mental approach, so you can be sure he has spoken with the Gamecocks about not letting the venue beat them.

“We speak about what we have to do to win,” Martin said. “That's what we talk about every single day. I said, ‘Don't be the guy that doesn't do their job to prevent us from having an opportunity of staying here until Monday night.

“Focus in on doing your job. And at the end of the day our job is not good enough, nothing to be ashamed of.’ “We're not playing the arena. We're not playing the tournament. We're not playing the Final Four. We're playing Gonzaga.”

The biggest adjustment the players face is shooting the basketball against a different background than most arenas. The depth perception inside UOP Arena is much different than Colonial Life Arena. However, the Gamecocks have three opportunities beginning Thursday to practice on the main court before Saturday’s 6:09 p.m. showdown with Gonzaga.

“The wall seems a whole lot further than it does at our gym,” Martin said. “It was interesting seeing the guys out there today shooting balls, listening to them (as they shot). It looks different. But we'll have an opportunity to shoot some balls in here again tomorrow. I never got the opportunity to shoot in a place like this, so I wouldn't know any different. It will be fine. Kids are players. We could go out to a park right now and play on 8-foot rims. The first couple of seconds (would be a little challenging) but eventually everyone adapts and shoots the ball in the basket.”


-- Saturday’s Final Four matchup is the first ever meeting between the Gamecocks and Gonzaga. It is also the first Final Four matchup between teams making their first ever Final Four appearance since 1973 when Providence faced Memphis.

-- Martin on practicing Thursday on the main court at UOP Stadium: “I don't know what you call that. It's unbelievable. It's a monster out there. I'm just glad I had a stool. I was afraid I was going to fall off the court there.”

-- Martin is not surprised all Final Four teams are led by upperclassmen: “It's like that every year. Everyone falls in love with the one-and-done phenomenon. But there's a big difference between 18-year-olds and 22-year-olds. As a college coach, the conversations I have with my seniors are completely different than the conversations I had with the same guy when they were freshmen. There's a maturity factor. The older we get, the less we give in to the emotion of a moment and the more we stay focused in on what matters, which is the moment we're in.”

-- Martin on Thornwell’s greatest contribution as the Gamecocks best player: “He makes all those guys understand that we're good enough. When your best player accepts coaching like he does, it allows you to coach everyone on your team. And he gives, he doesn't take. He never comes out of practice. I don't care what drill we're doing. I don't care how many times he's done it in his career, he will not come out. He'll only come out of practice if I grab him and say, ‘Sin, get out. He won't come out.’”

-- Thornwell has made 50.0 percent (30-60) of his shots in four NCAA Tourney games, averaging 25.8 points. He has made 11-of-26 3-pointers (42.3 pct.) and 32-of-39 free throws (82.1 pct.). Thornwell is also averaging 7.5 rebounds (13 of 30 rebounds are offensive). THornwell has been widely recognized by national media outlets (CBS, ESPN, etc.) as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament so far).

-- The Gamecocks come into the Final Four ranked fifth nationally in turnovers forced per game (17.3) and seventh in 3-point field goal percentage defense (29.8 pct.) The Gamecocks have held 19 of 36 opponents this season below 30 percent from 3-point range. Gonzaga averages 37.8 percent from 3-point range. Jordan Mathews is Gonzaga’s top 3-point shooter in terms of shots attempted (204). He connects on 38.7 percent of his long-range shots.

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