Frank Martin and the South Carolina Gamecocks brought an intensity that Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears could never match.
Baylor’s defense was good enough to win this one, but South Carolina’s was good enough to win running away. All night long the Gamecock defense stifled every attempt, playing with control and fluidity. They were on a string, and Drew couldn’t find a way to snip it. Johnathan Motley (18 points, 9 rebounds on 8-17 FG), who has found the open man all season long when faced with double teams, couldn’t adjust to the defenses he was seeing. South Carolina’s help defender would sink into the paint, while the defender left on the weak side would sit comfortably between the two Baylor players standing too close together.
The Bears needed to space the floor and spread the defense out to find the open man. Instead, they moved into the paint - maybe to make themselves more available or visible - and allowed the defense to pack in and contest everything. Even Manu Lecomte, Ish Wainright, and Jake Lindsey had their vision shuttered. Baylor had little trouble getting the ball into the paint, but they couldn’t do anything once it got there.
On the other side, Sindarius Thornwell was a beast. Shooting 4-10 from outside, he posted 24 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. He was everywhere any everything for his team. Three other Gamecocks reached double figures as South Carolina shot 46% from the field as a team.
Baylor shot 25% in the first half. That pretty much tells you how South Carolina had a 15 point lead having scored a mere 37 first half points. The Gamecocks were suffocating on defense, causing the slowest, most agonizing 18-0 run in NCAA Tournament history. South Carolina’s help defense was outstanding. Anytime the ball went inside, defenders were swarming to the ball, obscuring passing lanes and forcing poor shot choices.
On Contested Shots— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 25, 2017
South Carolina: 10-of-18, 22 points
Baylor: 3-of-23, 6 points
For Baylor’s part, they missed some open shooters. The skip passes to force hasty rotations were there, but Lecomte, Motley, et al. didn’t see them. Instead, Baylor settled for heavily contested midrange shots. Typically, even that’s okay offense for the Bears with their offensive rebounding. South Carolina, however, crashed the defensive glass so hard that even the occasional OREB lead to nothing more than an errant tap.
Thornwell was everywhere in the first half. Shooting 3-8 from the floor, he tallied 10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 1 block. With 4-9 shooting from outside as a whole for South Carolina, they looked like gangbusters compared to the Bears.
With upsets of the top two seeds in its region, Baylor’s path looked to be opening up to the Elite Eight and beyond. Reaching the Sweet Sixteen was certainly in step with an excellent regular season, but the Bears seemed lost from the opening tip tonight. For Motley and Wainright - who likely both played their final collegiate game tonight - it is a tough way to go out. Perhaps this convinces Motley not to go to the draft, but that remains to be seen.
The season was magical, the potential out coming was tantalizing, but the grapes were yanked from reach here at the end. We’ll still remember this team for a long time. Sic’em, Bears.