NEW YORK — If you were in attendance at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, you would swear you wereactually in South Carolina.
With every Gamecocks possession, every defensive stop in the game, you would think the roof was about to blow off The Garden. It crescendoed. Itdeafened.
The surreal atmosphere fed intoto a seemingly impossiblesituation: No. 7 South Carolina knockedoff No. 3 seed Baylor toadvanceto the program's first Elite Eight. It was all part of the ongoing coming-out party for Gamecocks star Sindarius Thornwell.
The South Carolinastar "burst on the scene"in the second half of the team'svictory over No. 2 seed Duke in the Round of 32, andkept that party going on Friday, just in time to play atMadison Square Garden.After Baylor triedto mount a bit more offense in the first half, there was Thornwell, draining a 3, stopping them dead in a bear trap. It was an awkwardrecord scratch for Baylor,over and over again.
Throughout the first half, the SEC Player of the Year did it all: He scored, he diverted, he screamed at teammates. He nailed clutch 3s. It was nothing new for Thornwell.
"I feel no added pressure," Thornwell told Sporting News. "We've been playing like this all year. It just so happened that it's a big stage and everyone is noticing us now."
The Gamecocks finished the first half on a 24-7 run, and led 37-22at the half. All the while, they kept Baylor to 25 percent shooting from the floor. It was more of the same in the second half.
Now, the Gamecocks areone step away from aseemingly impossible run to the Final Four. And Thornwell was a big part of that.
"I've been around (Thornwell)my whole life," Gamecocks senior guard Duane Notice told Sporting News. "I've been around him since I was in high school. Playing against him, being from Canada and playing against him, I've noticed all these things before. Getting to know him on a personal level five years ago, and being his teammate, turning into his brother, I've seen this before.
"He's a floor general, he's very confident. It's not by mistake. He works on his game, he makes sure we work on our game, and nobody wants it more than him."
Editor's note:"General Thornwell" makes a pretty badass nickname.
But really, it's not as if Thornwell hasn't earned his moniker. You've seen it from him these pasttwo weeks:barking at teammates andbacking up the talk with clutch shots and insane defensive effort.
And while Thornwell will never admit to himself or the media that this year's NCAA Tournament has helped elevate his game, some teammates think think it has.
"It means a lot. He pushes himself further even because of it, he wants to prove to everyone how good he is," Gamecocks freshman forwardMaik Kotsar told Sporting News. "I think the media attention is making him even better."
That was evident on Friday, when Baylor started to gain momentum back in the second half: Thornwell showed up again with a huge 3-pointer. And then another, with 5:21 left, to put USC back up by 20.
It has been this way all tournament. Namely, the Duke and Baylor games.It's not strictly about talent — it's been about which team wants those wins more.
Thornwell has been an absolute joy to watch during South Carolina's improbable run. And he's been living in the moment. When Sporting News asked him about the apparent home-court advantage the Gamecocks had on Friday night, he believed it was more than just hard work that got USC the W.
"It was crazy, man. It was crazy ...It felt good. It felt like home," Thornwell said. "It felt like we were meant to be here. You get the feeling ...the bright lights, then you got so much support behind you.
"You get the feeling that ...it was meant to happen. You know you were supposed to be here, you know you were supposed to be in this moment."