By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Baylor men’s basketball found out just how good South Carolina’s defense is.
The No. 3 seed Bears were held to just 30 percent shooting from the field and committed 16 turnovers as the No. 7 Gamecocks ended Baylor’s season 70-50 Friday night in the Sweet Sixteen at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
South Carolina senior guard Duane Notice said the Gamecocks are determined to keep their historical season alive.
“It’s a great win for the program,” Notice said. “It’s a good feeling when we continue to make history and I think once we get a taste of it, we kind of get addicted and want to continue doing it.”
South Carolina was led by Southeastern Conference (SEC) player of the year senior guard Syndarius Thornwell. Thornwell did a little bit of everything once again for the Gamecocks. He scored 24 points, grabbed six rebounds, added two assists, two blocks and two steals. Thornwell showed his versatility on both ends of the floor. He hit four of 10 from beyond the arc, showing that he could find spots in the Baylor zone. He was also able to use his 6’5 frame to penetrate the lanes and get to the basket as well. He was able to draw fouls on the Bears when he got inside, and was an efficient eight of 10 from the free throw line.
On defense, Thornwell found himself all over the place. At times he was banging around with Baylor junior forward Jonathan Motley in the post. Other times, he was hounding junior guard Manu Lecomte on the perimeter. Motley said that South Carolina did a great job of executing its game plan defensively.
“The defense was extremely tough,” Motley said. “That’s what they game-planned for. And they did a great job of executing their game plan. We couldn’t, really couldn’t buy a basket.”
Motley led the way for Baylor in what could be his final game. He scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds but struggled against the physical Gamecocks’ defense. He shot eight of 17 from the floor and just two of six from the free throw line. Seven of his points came in the final three and a half minutes when South Carolina already had the game well in hand.
Lecomte was held to just eight points on three of 11 shooting from the floor.
Thornwell got a little help from his friends, as three other Gamecocks finished in double figures. Sophomore forward Chris Silva and sophomore guard PJ Dozier both scored 12 points and Notice added 11 points for South Carolina.
One of Baylor’s major strengths this season has been in its ability to rebound the basketball. The Bears average 10 more rebounds per game than their opponent. However, on the biggest stage of the season for Baylor, was outrebounded 41-36 by South Carolina despite holding an advantage on the offensive end, 15-11.
After a back and forth first ten minutes of play, South Carolina grabbed the lead for good at 18-15 on a three-pointer from Notice. Over the next eight minutes of the first half, South Carolina would extend its lead to as much as 17 at 37-20 before settling for a 37-22 lead at half.
Baylor hung around as long as it could, cutting the deficit to 11 at 49-38 halfway through the second. South Carolina responded with three-pointers from Thornwell and Notice to push the lead back to 17 and stop any chance that Baylor had at coming back.
The Gamecocks led by as many as 22 in the second half.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said that it was difficult for his team to find an offensive rhythm after a slow start.
“What they do is a great job of making it difficult and then basketball’s such a game of momentum and after you get off to a bad start,” Drew said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get in a rhythm or hard to get in a flow.”
After scoring 40 points in Baylor’s first two games of the tournament, junior forward Terry Maston was held to two points and did not hit a shot from the floor in seven attempts.
Baylor senior guard Ishmail Wainwright had four rebounds, four assists, one block and a steal in his final game in a Baylor uniform. However, he was held scoreless and only attempted one field goal.
Baylor finishes its season 27-8 overall. No. 7 South Carolina improves to 25-10 overall and advance to play Florida in the Elite Eight at 2:30 p.m. Sunday on CBS.