NEW YORK – South Carolina’s miraculous NCAA tournament run continued on Sunday afternoon, as the Gamecocks beat SEC rival Florida, punching a ticket to the Final Four for the first time in school history in the process.
Two days after putting on a dominant performance in the Sweet 16, South Carolina battled back from a seven-point deficit at halftime to beat the Gators 77-70 at Madison Square Garden.
The Gamecocks (26-10), who had previously beaten No. 2 seed Duke and No. 3 Baylor, were able to overcome lights-out shooting and a strong offensive performance from the Gators (27-9) in the first half.
After South Carolina’s defense suffocated the Bears, allowing just 50 points total on Friday night, Florida shot 58 percent from beyond the arc en route to scoring 40 points in the opening 20 minutes.
South Carolina’s initial second-half charge was led by forwards Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar. The duo scored 14 points combined en route to giving the Gamecocks a 49-48 lead with 11:34 to play, setting up a back-and-forth few minutes before the Gamecocks ultimately pulled away late in the game.
Overall, the Gamecocks were led by senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, who scored a game-high 26 points. Thornwell, a likely selection in June’s NBA draft, has scored at least 20 points in each of his team’s four NCAA tournament contests.
In addition to Thornwell, the Gamecocks had three players in double figures, including Silva (13 points), Kotsar (12 points) and P.J. Dozier (17 points).
Prior to this run, South Carolina hadn’t won an NCAA tournament contest since 1973. The Gamecocks’ bid this year was its first since the 2003-04 season.
The trip to Phoenix marks the first Final Four berth for head coach Frank Martin, who had previously made the Elite Eight with Kansas State in 2009-10.
The win also marks the third time in four games this season that the Gamecocks have won in New York City. South Carolina previously upset Syracuse last November before beating Baylor and Florida in the NCAA tournament.
Sunday’s contest was the third matchup between the SEC schools, serving as a de facto rubber match. Both teams won on their home floors in conference play this season, with South Carolina emerging victorious in January and the Gators evening the score in the February rematch.
The No. 7 seed Gamecocks will play No. 1 seed Gonzaga in Phoenix on Saturday.
More NCAA tournament coverage on Yahoo Sports:
• Recently fired Tom Crean attends Indiana women’s basketball game
• Darius Rucker won’t miss South Carolina basketball, even when there’s a concert
• Frank Mason’s Kansas career ends without a Final Four appearance
• Oregon stuns Kansas to reach first Final Four in 78 years
• Gonzaga throttles Xavier to send Mark Few to his first Final Four