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South Carolina 70, Baylor 50: Courtside thoughts

March 25, 2017 Columns No Comments

NEW YORK – The first semifinal in the East Regional saw Baylor and South Carolina meeting in the Madison Square Garden opener. The night cap would feature Wisconsin and Florida.

First, notes and observations from the opener.

After getting the nerves out during a few early possessions, South Carolina settled in with two conversions in the lane. In the first four minutes the South Carolina had a 5-2 lead, and already you can see the prototype hit-the-boards aggressiveness of Fran Martin’s Gamecocks.

Frank Martin addresses the media after his team moved on to the Elite Eight (Ray Floriani photo)

Baylor opened in a 2-3 zone and went to 1-3-1 for a few possessions after the first media timeout before reverting to the 2-3. Offensively Baylor looks to run, while South Carolina does a good job in transition defense. Baylor took the lead midway through the first half as the Gamecocks had trouble matching up inside with Baylor’s 7-foot Jo Lual-Acuil.

With just over eight minutes left in the half and the score tied at 15, neither team could manufacture a run of any consequence. No sooner do I type this does South Carolina go on a 16-0 run, with limiting Baylor to one shot and crashing the offensive boards being instrumental.

I really like the game of South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell. A marquee player, Thornwell has good court awareness and will find open teammates if doubled defensively.

With just over three minutes left in the half, South Carolina leads 29-15. They are defending the heck out of it.
At the half South Carolina leads 37-22. The Gamecocks are limiting Baylor to 25 percent shooting from the field. That basically sums it up. Tempo free shows South Carolina with a 112 offensive efficiency and 64 on the defensive end. Both outstanding numbers, with the latter extremely impressive against a team of Baylor’s caliber.

Second half: The all important first four minutes go to South Carolina 9-6. At the 16 minute media timeout the margin is 18 in the Gamecocks’ favor. Those early possessions to start the final half told a good part of the story. Baylor struggled to get established on offense while South Carolina patiently got inside of the Bears’ zone, broke it down and made the extra pass to finish.

With a double-digit lead still for the Gamecocks, consecutive treys by Baylor get the deficit to a manageable 13 points. There is no time for Frank Martin’s group to get complacent, and they respond. South Carolina answers the Baylor run with two three-pointers of their own. With just over nine minutes left the margin is back to 17. Does Baylor have it in them for another final run?

Baylor starts to full court press down 18 with under seven to play. South Carolina breaks it and judiciously sets up a half court offense. Not to stall but burn clock each possession as the clock is their ally. A Thornwell trey with just over five minutes left pushes the lead back to 20. That just might be the proverbial dagger. Down 20 with 1:44 to go Baylor is in a fouling mode to extend the game, but it was too much ground to make up, especially with the Gamecocks converting from the charity stripe. In the final minute, the Bears concede. No fouling, simply running out the clock. South Carolina does not even look to score and takes a shot clock violation the final minute.

Final: South Carolina 70, Baylor 50.

Johnathan Motley was Baylor’s lone double-digit scorer with 18 points. South Carolina had a balanced attack with four in double digits. Thornwell’s 24 points paced all scorers.

Holding Baylor to 50 points was impressive, and the tempo free numbers bear out how impressive. In a 67-possession (moderate paced) contest, South Carolina posted an offensive efficiency of 106. They held Baylor to 75. Teams aspire to hold opponents under 100; Baylor entered the game averaging 106 in offensive efficiency. To hold them to 31 under their average, especially in a game of this magnitude, speaks volumes regarding South Carolina’s defensive effort. An effort resulting in the school’s first Elite Eight.

South Carolina improved to 25-10 while Baylor closed the book on a 27-8 campaign.

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