The Martin Way now playing out on national stage

Scott Hood, GamecockCentral.com
Gamecock Central
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Chris Gillespie, Gamecock Central

GREENVILLE – Along with the rest of the country, Duke discovered Sunday night what the SEC already knew – South Carolina plays some a serious brand of aggressive, no holds barred defense.

The Blue Devils were beaten up, beaten down and twisted sideways by the Gamecocks from start to finish, both inside and outside.

The Martin Way prevailed again on its biggest stage yet.

Two nights after hitting 13-of-28 3-pointers in a first round win over Troy, Duke was held to 10-of-27 (37.0 percent) shooting from long range and limited to 18 points in the paint, 14 below their season average.

Duke’s leading scorer Luke Kennard was held to 11 points on 1-of-6 shooting from the field before fouling out as he struggled to find breathing room on the perimeter.

USC held the opposing team’s leading scorer below his season average for the 25th time in 34 games this season.

Most eye-catching sign of USC’s defensive domination? Duke committed 18 turnovers, tying its season high. The Blue Devils came into the contest averaging just 11.2 turnovers per game, but were harassed into miscues time and again by the aggressive Gamecocks.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski understood from watching film that the Gamecocks would test his team with their defensive tenacity, but perhaps USC was even better on that end of the floor than he thought going into the game.

“It's the toughest defense we've played against all year,” Krzyzewski said. “Very physical. Actually the most physical game we've been in all year. But that's how hard they play. We got worn down.”

In many respects, the Gamecocks are a reflection of Frank Martin, who brought his tough-minded, tough love approach to Columbia five years ago. Over that stretch, he has steadily brought in players committed to his defensive-first mentality. The second part of the equation – great defense translates to great offense.

Sunday, the Gamecocks scored 16 points off the 18 Duke turnovers, doubling the number of points Duke had off USC turnovers.

“Our coach does a tremendous job of making sure we understand that defense is our focal point,” Gamecock senior guard Duane Notice said. “We don't want to let our foot off the gas. When it comes to our defense, we want to make sure we get into people and pressure them. So when our defensive intensity is up, it translates to the offensive end.”

Added P.J. Dozier: “We make our offense out of our defense and we’ve got to stay consistent. We played pretty good defense in the first half and made them take tough shots. They made some tough shots just as a great team does. But we just stayed consistent and came out with a ‘W’.”

Sunday night, Martin’s formula for winning basketball came together and produced arguably the biggest victory in school history over one of the college basketball’s bluebloods, and it all happened in front of a stunned national TV audience.

“We're a good defensive team,” Martin said, “And when we play defense, we play better on offense. That's why we're playing next week. If not, we wouldn't be in this tournament to start with.”

Even though Duke’s 18 turnovers was the stand out, glow-in the-dark statistic of the night, that number simply represents another night at the office for the Gamecocks, which came into the game fifth nationally in turnovers forced per game (17.3).

SEC opponents averaged 18.4 turnovers per game. So, forcing the foe to turn the ball over at a rapid rate is something the Gamecocks have specialized in, and something they have continually and consistently accomplished all season long.

In short, forcing turnovers is a key component of their defensive DNA.

“They're well-coached and not only are they good technique-wise, they add heart,” Krzyzewski said. “They add toughness. They add all the intangibles that go with great technique. And then they’re all committed to it. They played it at a high level, and the game was a very physical game. They adapted well to it.”

When the frustrated Duke players began to argue among themselves on the court, the Gamecocks knew they would win the game.

“They kind of started arguing and bickering a little bit on the court because of our defense,” Justin McKie said. “That’s when we felt like we had them and we can take this thing home.”

After dumping Duke in one of the bigger upsets (certainly the most attention-grabbing) of the NCAA Tournament so far, the Gamecocks are now preparing to face Baylor in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Baylor possesses plentiful talent and spent one week at No. 1 in the national polls, but USC’s biggest enemy going into Friday night’s game could be complacency and the belief the Gamecocks have accomplished enough.

“The coaching staff is going to do a good job of keeping us level headed, keeping our composure down and keeping us focused on the task at hand,” senior guard Sindarius Thornwell said. “We're just going out and competing and giving everybody our best shot."

SWEET 16 SCHEDULE (March 23-24)

Thur., March 23

Michigan vs. Oregon, 7:09 p.m. (CBS)

West Virginia vs. Gonzaga, 7:39 (TBS)

Purdue vs. Kansas, Approx. 9:39 p.m. (CBS)

Xavier vs. Arizona, Approx. 10:09 p.m. (TBS)

Fri., March 24

North Carolina vs. Butler, 7:09 p.m. (CBS)

South Carolina vs. Baylor, 7:29 p.m. (TBS)

UCLA vs. Kentucky, Approx. 9:39 p.m. (CBS)

Florida vs. Wisconsin, Approx. 9:59 p.m. (TBS)

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