Duke and South Carolina had not matched up head to head before last night’s game that led to the Gamecocks advancing to the Sweet 16. However, two very different decisions by the two teams’ coaches, both made on January 4th, proved pivotal in last night’s Round of 32 battle.
A little over two months ago, I wrote a blog about Frank Martin’s decision to suspend Sindarius Thornwell and how it contradicted Coach K’s lenient punishment of Grayson Allen.
On December 4th, Frank Martin announced that South Carolina’s superstar, Sindarius Thornwell, was suspended indefinitely. That suspension lasted 6 games, spanning over a full month, which included three losses for South Carolina who struggled greatly without their best player. Nobody would have blamed Coach Martin for reinstating Thornwell when the team began to struggle, but Frank Martin knew he owed it to his team, and more importantly, to Sindarius to hold him accountable.
On the same night as Sindarius’ return to the team, Duke’s Grayson Allen returned from an indefinite suspension of his own. The only difference being Allen’s only lasted one game. Allen was suspended indefinitely after an incident where he intentionally tripped an opponent, and it was not the first time this had happened. The first (and only) game of his suspension, Duke lost to Virginia Tech 89-75. Unlike Martin, Coach K decided to reinstate Allen so that Duke could return to its winning ways.
Heading into March it seemed as if Coach K’s decision had paid off. Duke was the hottest team in the country and entered the NCAA tournament as a #2 seed coming off their ACC Tournament Championship. Whereas South Carolina stumbled into the tournament as a #7 seed, playing their worst basketball of the season.
Then came last night. The 7 seeded Gamecocks were set to face the 2 seeded Blue Devils for a spot in the Sweet 16. The first half was an offensive disaster for South Carolina, but they played just enough defense to keep it a 7 point differential at the half. Then the second half happened. Duke look flustered offensively, finishing the game with 18 turnovers. South Carolina on the other hand played a half of offense I didn’t think they were even capable of, scoring SIXTY-FIVE second half points. They were once again led by their senior star who finished the game with 24 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Watching the game it was clear that Duke had more talented players, but they were not the better team. They played with little heart and each player seemed to be playing for themselves. However, South Carolina played the most selfless half of basketball I’ve seen in a long time. Giving every extra effort, making every extra pass, doing everything possible to help their team win.
It all comes full circle to that fateful night of January 4th. One player returned thinking he was bigger than his team, while another returned humbled, knowing he is nothing without his team. That’s how two opposing coaching decisions in January, led to the biggest win in South Carolina basketball history.