Duke knocked out of NCAA tournament by South Carolina's sizzling second-half shooting

Duke’s stay in the 2017 NCAA tournament was short-lived.

After going into the locker room with a seven-point halftime lead, the second-seeded Blue Devils were blitzed in the second half by hot-shooting South Carolina and sent home in disappointing fashion. Playing in what basically amounted to a home game in Greenville, South Carolina (because of North Carolina’s bathroom law), the No. 7 seed Gamecocks shot 71.4 percent from the field in the second half to pull off the upset. The 88-81 win clinches South Carolina’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1973.

South Carolina’s offense struggled mightily in the first half, shooting a measly 20 percent, but the Blue Devils allowed the Gamecocks to stay within arm’s length with 13 turnovers and its own inconsistent performance on offense. The lead was 30-23 in Duke’s favor, but the tables turned completely when the teams returned from the break.

Behind standout performances from Sindarius Thornwell (24 points), Chris Silva (17 points) and Duane Notice (17 points), the Gamecocks stormed out of the gates and quickly flipped the seven-point deficit into a lead. At one point, the Gamecocks hit seven straight shots, including a Thornwell 3-pointer to give them a 42-41 lead a little more than five minutes into the half.

Duke would briefly reclaim a two-point lead a few minutes later, but a three-point play from PJ Dozier at the 12:03 mark gave the Gamecocks a lead they would never relinquish. The lead grew to as large as 10 and remained at that point with 1:38 remaining. Duke would make one final push, cutting its deficit to five, but Thornwell and freshman Rakym Felder, who pitched in 15 points off the bench, sealed the deal at the free throw line.

Rakym Felder pitched in 15 points to help South Carolina upset Duke. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Rakym Felder pitched in 15 points to help South Carolina upset Duke. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

Before blowing out Marquette 93-73 in the first round a few days ago, South Carolina hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game since that ‘73 trip to the Sweet 16. Now the Gamecocks, in Frank Martin’s fifth season, will head to Madison Square Garden for a matchup with No. 3 seed Baylor, which knocked off No. 11 seed USC 82-78 earlier on Sunday.

South Carolina’s Sweet 16 triumph isn’t the anticipated Duke-Villanova matchup at Madison Square Garden many anticipated. Villanova, the defending national champion and tournament top overall seed, was eliminated by Wisconsin on Saturday. Duke, one of the hottest teams in the country and a popular national title pick in brackets across America, shot the ball pretty well, but just had no answer for the Gamecocks on defense.

Foul trouble didn’t help matters. Luke Kennard, who scored just 11 points (nearly nine below his average), played for much of the second half with four fouls. Kennard, Jayson Tatum (15 points) and Matt Jones (six points) all eventually fouled out late in the game as the Blue Devils attempted to close the gap. Grayson Allen led the Blue Devils with 20 points off the bench while Amile Jefferson, playing in his final college game, contributed 14 points, 15 boards and six blocks.

More March Madness coverage from Yahoo Sports:

Protesters fly Confederate flag next to NCAA tournament arena in Greenville
John Beilein comes equipped with super soaker for Michigan’s postgame celebration
Michigan keeps memorable March run alive, advances to Sweet 16
‘Northwestern crying kid on a roller coaster of emotions during loss to Gonzaga

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!