No. 7 South Carolina locked down on defense Sunday to beat No. 4 Florida 77-70 to reach its first-ever Final Four.
After trailing by seven points at halftime, the Gamecocks regrouped defensively to change the program's history.
Here are three reasons why South Carolinawon:
1. Sindarius Thornwell's two-way dominance — Before the tournament, few knew who Thornwell was. He didn't get much media attention in the SEC and he's not projected as an elite NBA prospect. Yet, Thornwell is an elite college basketball player on both ends of the court.
The 6-5 guard scored 26 points with seven rebounds and twosteals. His ability to bully smaller guards allows him to score in the paint or knock down a jumper. He is a bulldog on defense who covers a lot of ground with underrated foot speed and a massive wingspan.
2. Second-half perimeter defense — The Gators blistered South Carolina from beyond the arc in the first half, making 7 of 12 attempts. But the Gamecocks did a much better job closing out and forcing Florida to take tough shots in the second half, which made the Gators miss all 143-point shots after the break.
South Carolina gets after opponents with a trap, havoc-style defense that makes offenses have to adjust on almost every possession. Florida did a nice job finding space in the first half, but the Gamecocks suffocated those lanes in the second half.
3. Fate — Gonzaga had already made it into the Final Four for the first time in school history, and Oregon had punched its ticket into the Final Four for the first time since 1939, so it's only fitting South Carolina would sneak in as well.
The Gamecocks, who had never made the Final Four previously, will be a tough out with their stifling defense, rigid coaching by Frank Martin and opportunistic scoring ability. Few had South Carolina as a Final Four threat this year, but that's exactly why the tournament is called March Madness.