Gamecocks fend off second-half rally, stun No. 9 Cyclones
— Story by Julia Morris
The recent offensive struggles of starting guard Sindarious Thornwell did not bother South Carolina head coach Frank Martin. Whispers from supporters concerning his play, Martin said, did get to him, believing those whispers were growing a little too loud to his liking down in Columbia.
After Saturday night, the sophomore’s loud play on the court against a nationally-ranked opponent should leave the doubters quiet for a while. Thornwell capped off an impressive second half with a late-game steal and clinching free throw as South Carolina pulled off its biggest win of the season, defeating No. 9 Iowa State 64-60 on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“We judge people too much by how many points they score in a game,” Martin, the third-year Gamecock coach said. “He’s not playing bad; he just needs to have the confidence to see the ball go through that basket, and I hope making shots down the stretch engages him offensively a little bit more.”
Thornwell scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half, including six in the final two minutes to put South Carolina (9-3) in a good position to close out the game late. With just under 30 seconds left and Iowa State (10-2) possessing the ball down three, Thornwell made the game-clinching play on defense, coming up with a steal on the perimeter to extinguish any chance the Cyclones had of completing a last-second comeback.
“Even though I’ve been having bad games, my teammates have been helping me and have been positive and motivating,” Thornwell said.
While the game was close in the final seconds, South Carolina jumped out to an early lead at the start of the game. The Gamecocks were up 15-4 just five minutes into the contest, with senior point guard Tyrone Johnson scoring nine of those first 15 points. South Carolina came into the game holding opponents to just under 58 points per game, and limited Iowa State to just 10 through the first eight minutes of the game.
“We came out of the gate and we guarded,” Martin said. “We guarded until the final buzzer. That’s what we try to hang out hat on, our defense.”
Another Gamecock guard, Duane Notice, scored 11 first half points to go along with four assists, and he contributed most of his offense to his team’s swarming half-court pressure defense.
“It was a credit to our defense creating a lot of open transition buckets for me,” Notice said.
Despite South Carolina’s strong start, Iowa State went on a 6-0 run to close out the first half, with one of the scores coming in emphatic fashion. Jameel McKay tossed an alley-oop to Yonkers native Dustin Hogue, who threw down the dunk to cut South Carolina’s lead to 36-33 with just under two minutes remaining. Byrce Dejean-Jones hit a jumper a minute later to pull the Cyclones within one heading into the break.
The game remained tight, but South Carolina was able to maintain the lead for the majority of the first part of the second half. Iowa State took its first lead of the game, however, with 8:25 left after Georges Niang hit a jumper, sending all of the Iowa State fans in attendance into a frenzy.
However, the Cyclones could not find a consistent rhythm to maintain the lead. They missed their first five attempts from three-point range in the second half, this after going 0-for-10 from deep in the first half. Iowa State came into the game shooting 36.5 percent from three as a team.
“We talked all week about when you get by the primary defender that they do a great job of synching in,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “A lot of times we didn’t complete the pass because they got a deflection…The last few days we talked about getting and making that pass to the opposite corner, where we thought we can get some open looks, but we just never got the ball there.”
Naz Long, who came into the game hitting a three-pointer in 19 consecutive games, finally connected from behind the arc for the Cyclones with 47.6 seconds left, cutting the Gamecocks lead to 63-60. An offensive foul gave the Cyclones the ball back with a chance to tie, but Thornwell’s theft of Long on the right wing sealed the victory for the Gamecocks.
That last second turnover was one of 13 on the night for Iowa State, who had even bigger issues regarding their usually spot-on shooting accuracy. Coming into the game leading the Big 12 in free throw shooting at 74 percent, Iowa State finished the game 19-of-33 from the charity stripe.
“A lot of times it’s contagious, like a domino effect, and one guy misses and everyone else starts thinking about it,” Hoiberg said. “You just need to have some mental toughness to get through that.”
Iowa State will look to find that mental toughness when they head back to Ames and host Oklahoma State on Tuesday. South Carolina, on the other hand, has now won seven in a row, the school’s longest win streak since beginning the 2003-04 season winning eight straight contests. They’ll look to improve on this streak opening SEC play, as they host Florida on Wednesday.
[Cover photo (Frank Martin) courtesy of Al Bello/Getty Images]