Sweet 16 Preview: Gamecocks look to tame Bears in Big Apple

Scott Hood, GamecockCentral.com
Gamecock Central
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WHAT: South Carolina (24-10) vs. Baylor (27-7), NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

WHERE: Madison Square Garden (20,789), New York, NY

WHEN: Fri., March 24, 7:29 p.m. ET

TV/RADIO: TBS (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce); Gamecock Radio Network (Derek Scott, Casey Manning); CBSSports.com; Westwood One Radio Network.

SERIES RECORD: Baylor leads 4-2

LAST MEETING: Baylor won, 69-65, at Columbia, SC on Nov. 18, 2014.

Baylor is leaving no stone unturned in their quest to accomplish something Marquette and Duke failed to do in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament – stop Sindarius Thornwell.

Thornwell, described by Duke coach Mike Kryzyewski as the greatest unheralded player in the country, has become one of the break-out players of the 2017 NCAA Tournament by scoring 53 points on 16-of-33 shooting, 17 rebounds and 7 assists in 61 minutes of NCAA Tournament action.

Certainly, Baylor is aware Thornwell has accounted for 31.6 percent of the Gamecocks’ scoring over the course of the last five games, and they hope their usually effective zone defense anchored by twin towers Johnathan Motley (6-10) and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (7-0) will minimize his impact on the game, especially driving to the basket.

“The whole team will be defending him,” Baylor forward Ishmail Wainright said on Thursday. “He’s a great player. I've known him since high school. We had our battles. He's a close friend. He can do everything. I know he has a great chance to go to the next level and do great things there, too.

“They do a great job feeding him the ball in the spots where he likes the ball. Coach (Drew) has broken down every made shot that he's had and we have all watched at least three hours of film on just Sindarius. He's just a great player. The whole team will be trying to stop him. Everybody else on their team is great, too, so it's not just him.”

Martin’s teams always pride themselves on two things – defense and rebounding. However, Baylor ranks extremely high in some national defensive categories as well – 20th in scoring defense (63.5), 23rd in field goal percentage defense (40.4 pct) and 30th in blocked shots per game (4.8).

Without a doubt, Baylor’s big guys impact the game in multiple ways. Thornwell and Duane Notice were exposed to Baylor basketball when they were freshmen and sophomores as the Bears swept a home-and-home series in 2013-14 (Waco) and 2014-15 (Columbia).

“I don't think much has really changed (with Baylor),” Notice said. “They’ve got the same personnel and they do a good job of playing within that zone. Baylor has always been known to have a great zone defensively. But I think our coaches are going to give us the correct game plan so that we can obtain the win.”

Baylor is also one of the best rebounding teams in the nation as their rebounding margin of 9.1 per game ranks second in the country. They surrender only about 10 offensive rebounds per game, so effectively crashing the glass will prove challenging for the Gamecocks.

Offensively, Baylor is the polar opposite of Marquette, which attempted 3-pointers at a frantic rate. Just 33.1 percent of Baylor’s total field goal attempts (629-1,901) have been from behind the 3-point line. In short, Baylor likes to pound the ball inside to Motley, who is averaging nearly a double-double (17.3 points + 9.9 rebounds), and Lual-Acuil Jr., a native if Australia.

By far, Baylor’s most dangerous 3-point threat is Miami transfer Manu Lecomte, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and a fourth-year point guard from Brussels, Belgium. He has connected on 41 percent of his 3-point attempts (69-169).

“Based on the way their bigs attack the rim and rebound, the way they attack in the paint and the way the guys make shots, they're a good team,” Thornwell said. “We're going to have a tough matchup tomorrow.”

NOTES

-- After forcing 36 turnovers from Marquette and Duke (18 in each game) in their first two NCAA Tournament wins, the Gamecocks are fifth nationally in turnovers forced per game (17.3). That marks leads the SEC as well. Duke equaled its season high with those 18 turnovers Sunday night in Greenville.

-- The Gamecocks rank ninth nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense (30.0 pct), while Baylor is connecting on 36.1 percent of its 3-point attempts. Nobody on the Baylor roster who has played meaningful minutes this seaosn is shooting above 41 percent from long range. Advantage, Gamecock

-- Baylor reached the Sweet 16 by beating New Mexico State (91-73) and Southern Cal (82-78) in the first two rounds.

-- Thornwell has made 193 free throws this season (193-233) for a 82.8 percent success rate. His total number of free throws made is fifth highest for a single season.

-- Rakym Felder’s 15 points off the bench Sunday night vs. Duke was hardly a fluke. The freshman guard from New York, NY has led the Gamecocks bench scoring 15 times this season.

-- A Sweet 16 victory over Baylor would allow the Gamecocks to match the school record for victories in a season (25) and give them 50 victories in back-to-back season. They also won 25 games in 1969-70 and 2015-16.

-- Martin’s sister and her family live in Brooklyn and own several restaurants in the area.

-- The Gamecocks are 3-1 in games played in the New York City area with wins over Manhattan, Iowa State and Syracuse. The lone loss came to Seton Hall in December at Madison Square Garden,

PROJECTED STARTERS:

USC: Sindarius Thornwell (21.4 ppg), Duane Notice (10.3), P.J. Dozier (13.8), Maik Kotsar (5.8), Chris Silva (10.1).

BAY: Johnathan Motley (17.3 ppg), Manu Lecomte (12.3), Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (9.2), Ishmail Wainright (5.7), King McClure (5.0).

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Scoring Average: Sindarius Thornwell (21.4)

Total Points: Sindarius Thornwell (598)

Total Field Goals: Sindarius Thornwell (177)

Field Goal Pct: Chris Silva (.545)

3-Pointers: Duane Notice (64)

3-Pt Pct: Rakym Felder (.442)

Free Throw Pct: Sindarius Thornwell (.828)

Total Rebounds: Sindarius Thornwell (203)

Defensive Rebounds: Sindarius Thornwell (130)

Offensive Rebounds: Sindarius Thornwell (73)

Assists: P.J. Dozier (95)

Turnovers: P.J. Dozier (72)

Blocks: Chris Silva (45)

Steals: Sindarius Thornwell (61

Minutes: Duane Notice (1,120)

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)

(All Times Eastern)

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