After having a few days to reflect back on what a great season South Carolina Basketball experienced, it only makes sense to take a look back at it. The 2016/17 South Carolina season saw significant accomplishments before the post season began, which will often be overlooked.
South Carolina fans came into this season with some hesitation due to what happened with last season’s snub from the NCAA Tournament. The 2015/16 team won a school record 25 games and still fell short of making the tournament. Luckily, Gamecock fans rose to the occasion (as they always do) and showed up to support their team in the early non-conference schedule. Early November games in Columbia have often been against teams like Elon, Charlotte, Lipscomb, Western Carolina, etc.
This season, South Carolina played quality NCAA Tournament caliber teams such as Monmouth, Michigan, Syracuse, Vermont, and Seton Hall. The game against Monmouth really set the standard for what this season would be like. The Gamecocks held a huge lead at halftime against the Hawks, but Monmouth rallied back making it a game and sending it to overtime. With just seconds left, Monmouth took the lead and forced the Gamecocks to make a play at the buzzer. As you can see below it wasn’t conventional, but it worked.
After the Monmouth game, South Carolina defeated Michigan 61-46 while holding the Wolverines to 19% from the field. The Michigan game really proved to the country that the South Carolina defense was special. Dominating wins over NCAA Tournament caliber teams Syracuse and Vermont capped off an undefeated start to the season until Sindarius Thornwell was suspended.
Thornwell was suspended before the Florida International game and left Gamecock fans speechless. Nothing was released about the suspension and fans had no idea when he would return. His suspension lead to heartbreaking losses to Seton Hall, Clemson, and Memphis. All of those games could have easily been won if South Carolina had Thornwell.
Three crucial losses to Georgia were a major contributing factor in the Gamecocks 2015/16 snub. South Carolina got Sindarius Thornwell back in time for the start of SEC play against the Bulldogs. In Thornwell like fashion, he scored 19 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, and six blocks. A hot start in SEC play had South Carolina sitting at 4-0 in the SEC going into what felt like the biggest game in the Frank Martin era against Florida. In a low scoring affair, the Gamecocks won 57-53 and held Florida to no three pointers for the entire game which hadn’t been done since 1992. Undefeated in conference play, the Gamecocks traveled to Kentucky and learned the day of the game that PJ Dozier would be out. The Gamecocks fought back from a 21 point lead, but ultimately fell apart in the final minutes against the Wildcats.
After Kentucky, the Gamecocks went on another four game winning streak going into a battle against Alabama. The Alabama game would be a massive turning point in the season. The game went to 4OT and ultimately ended with Alabama winning by four. Sindarius Thornwell caught the eyes of the rest of the nation however, scoring 44 points and grabbing 21 rebounds. To close out the season, South Carolina struggled to get anything done losing to four more SEC foes. A 12 conference win season was good for the best in Gamecock history and Frank Martin made it a major priority to win a game in the SEC Tournament.
SEC and NCAA Tournament
Going into the postseason, it felt like South Carolina was going to reset. In the SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks would draw a hot Alabama team that they had already lost in a 4OT game to. Alabama completely dominated the game and left the Gamecocks one and done.
If you live in the city of Columbia and own a radio, you probably heard the fans complaining saying that this was just another team that couldn’t handle the pressure. Most fans even agreed that we deserved another NIT bid, even though the Gamecocks were in the top 30 in the coveted RPI. The Sunday following the loss to Alabama, South Carolina was selected to it’s first NCAA Tournament in 13 years and was given a #7 seed to play against #10 Marquette.
The attitude completely shifted in Columbia after a second half domination of a very solid Marquette team. A matchup against Duke left Gamecock fans with an odd sense of confidence going into the game. Admittedly, I chose Duke to win the National Championship in all of my brackets. A magical second half performance from Chris Silva and Sindarius Thornwell would send Coach K and the Blue Devils packing. After the Duke game, the Gamecocks seemed to become America’s new favorite team left in the tournament.
The Friday night matchup against #3 seed Baylor seemed like the Gamecocks were playing some scrub #16 seed. The calls into local radio were 100% optimism for the game, and fans didn’t seem to think there was any way Baylor would knock the Gamecocks out of the tournament. The fans were right, and the Gamecocks dominated nearly the entire game to win 70-50. A familiar face in Florida met the Gamecocks in the Elite Eight. The second time that the two teams faced off, South Carolina was easily playing their worst basketball of the season and fans didn’t know what to expect.
What the fans got was another iffy first half, and a complete takeover of the second half. South Carolina basketball fans were finally able to claim a Final Four birth. On that Sunday night, thousands of fans met the Gamecocks back at Colonial Life Arena and it felt like the Gamecocks had won the National Championship.
The game against #1 seed Gonzaga felt like the rest of the games that were played in the tournament. A poor first half, but it felt like they were going to come back in the second half ready to play. Sure enough, the Gamecocks came to play in the second half. A 16-0 run gave South Carolina the lead with around four minutes to go. Gonzaga’s Zach Collins turned it on in the final minutes with multiple blocks and ended the Gamecock’s run at a National Championship.
The 2016/17 South Carolina basketball season was full of accomplishments. The first major accomplishment for this team was winning 12 SEC games. The SEC was a very strong, yet underrated conference in 2016/17. Four SEC teams won a game in the NCAA Tournament, and three SEC teams made the Elite Eight. Sindarius Thornwell was named the SEC Player of the Year following the regular season, the first time a Gamecock has been named to that honor. 26 wins is another school record, beating the 2015/16 team’s record of 25 wins.
The NCAA Tournament was a complete series of firsts for the program. The win against Marquette was the first win in the NCAA Tournament since 1973. Following that, each win set a record for how far the Gamecocks had gone in the NCAA Tournament. Making it to the Final Four will go down as a top moment in Gamecock athletics history.
An accomplishment that was handed out this week that seems the greatest of all. Frank Martin was named the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year. Coach Martin’s story has become one of the greatest stories in sports over the last several years. The rest of the country was finally able to see Martin’s devotion to college basketball and recognize him for it.
TY 2 every1 4the wishes on the COY award. It's a testament 2 an incredible staff &a special group of players. They have taken me on gr8 ride
— Frank Martin (@FrankMartin_SC) April 5, 2017
The 2016/17 South Carolina Gamecocks basketball team will always be a fan favorite, much like the National Championship baseball teams. The Gamecocks will lose seniors Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, and Justin McKie. All three seniors have contributed huge things to this program and it will be impossible to replace them. Players to watch for next season that are coming in will be Kory Holden, David Beatty, and Ibrahim Doumbia.