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Gamecock Hoops: Staying Hot

SOUTH CAROLINA WINS TOP 25 TILT … The University of South Carolina men’s basketball team stayed hot this week with a huge home victory over Southeastern Conference (SEC) rival Florida.  The highly-anticipated battle between the No. 24 Gamecocks and the No. 19/21 Gators ended with a 57-53 win for the…

SOUTH CAROLINA WINS TOP 25 TILT …

The University of South Carolina men’s basketball team stayed hot this week with a huge home victory over Southeastern Conference (SEC) rival Florida.  The highly-anticipated battle between the No. 24 Gamecocks and the No. 19/21 Gators ended with a 57-53 win for the home team – which has now reeled off five straight victories to open its conference slate.

That’s the program’s hottest conference start in two decades.

Leading the way for head coach Frank Martin‘s resurgent squad was star senior shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell – who scored fifteen of his game-high 20 points during the second half of this defensive struggle.

Thornwell has been on fire since returning to the lineup from his December suspension – scoring in double figures every game.  The 6-foot-5, 211-pound senior from Lancaster, S.C. is currently averaging 18.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

With the exception of assists (he averaged 3.8 per game a year ago), all of those totals would be career-highs.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

While Thornwell was filling the score sheet, South Carolina’s stingy, SEC-leading defense was busy holding the Gators’ potent offense to its lowest point total of the season.  In fact Florida failed to break the sixty-point threshold for the first time since a game against Georgia last February.

Florida also turned the ball over sixteen times.

Entering Wednesday night’s showdown, head coach Mike White’s team was averaging 79 points per contest – and shooting 45 percent from the floor.  The Gators hit on just 35 percent of their shots on Wednesday night, though – including a maddening zero-for-17 performance from behind the three-point line.

Florida’s long-range futility snapped the program’s NCAA-record streak of 850 games with at least one made three-pointer.  It also cost the Gators a chance to record their first victory over a Top 25 opponent this season.

(Click to view)

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Martin’s team, on the other hand, now has three wins over Top 25 opponents this year – victories that could bolster its case for a 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance.  The Gamecocks narrowly missed getting an invitation to last year’s Big Dance – where the school hasn’t appeared since 2004 (and hasn’t won a game since 1973).

South Carolina (15-3, 5-0 SEC) will try to take a huge step in that direction this weekend against perennial national championship contender Kentucky – which owns a 50-11 mark against the Gamecocks (and a 26-2 record against them on its home court at Rupp Arena).

Saturday night’s game against head coach John Calipari and the fifth-ranked Wildcats will tipoff at 6:00 p.m. EST with ESPN providing national television coverage.

After posting an abysmal 28-38 record (including a 9-27 conference mark) during his first two years in Columbia, Martin’s squad broke even with a 17-16 record during the 2014-15 season.  Last year’s team went 25-9.

(Banner via Travis Bell Photography)

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