South Carolina takes down Duke and shocks the world

Frank Martin amid his giddy Gamecocks. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

GREENVILLE, S.C. – With 18 seconds left, Frank Martin was still expecting, he said, “a nine-point play.” Then he looked down and saw Mike Krzyzewski, maybe the best coach ever, walking toward him. Then Martin knew. Then it got wild.

Martin’s South Carolina Gamecocks gathered by the press table in front of their main cheering section – though there were a lot of sections cheering for them, this being the Palmetto State and there being lots of North Carolina backers (and therefore Duke haters) in the arena – to chant, “USC! USC!”

Martin waved his fist at the crowd from the court and then, his TV interview duties done, waded into the crowd. He hugged Jadeveon Clowney, a big name in another sport, though it must be said: Jadeveon Clowney has yet to win a game this big. “An unbelievable moment for me personally,” Martin called it, speaking of all the moments that led to that stunning final score:

South Carolina 88, Duke 81.

Villanova losing to Wisconsin was a surprise. Duke losing to a team that lost four of its final six games of the regular season and its SEC tournament opener … that’s an out-and-out shock. An OK team from the nothing-special SEC unhorsed the blueblood that had, just eight days earlier, stormed past Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame to win the ACC championship. That seemed like a big deal at the time. It seems rather less of one today.

The ACC sent nine teams to the NCAA tournament. Eight are gone. North Carolina trailed Arkansas – another SEC team – on this very floor 2 ½ hours earlier but rallied to win. A year ago, the ACC sent six teams to the Sweet 16. (Seven days ago, this correspondent picked an all-ACC Final Four.) But the SEC, a conference notable mostly for housing Kentucky, is sending three to the next round. And South Carolina, which lost by 16 points to Memphis on Dec. 30, is one of them.

“The whole time, we felt like we could win,” said Sindarius Thornwell, who scored 29 points in the Gamecocks’ Round 1 dismissal of Marquette and 24 more against mighty Duke. “We were just happy to be in the tournament. It didn’t matter who we played.”

Until Friday night, South Carolina hadn’t won an NCAA game in 44 years. It just notched the biggest win this program has seen since its ACC days, which ended in 1971. And this was no victory achieved in some far-flung sub-regional. This happened in South Carolina, with the famous footballer Clowney and the distinguished basketballer Alex English on hand to witness.

An upset of this magnitude – we stipulate that there aren’t many – has a different feel to it. The favorite begins to doubt in a way it mightn’t have doubted all season. The underdog begins to believe that it belongs on the same court. The crowd gets into it and lifts the underdog higher and higher, and suddenly you look up and it’s inside the final five minutes and the favorite is 10 points in arrears.

You’ve been leaning forward in your seat all night, and now you’re leaning so hard that your chin would be on the playing floor if the press table. You’re leaning forward because you’re thinking, “This could be one I’ll remember always.”

And so it was. South Carolina had mustered seven first-half baskets, making 20 percent of its shots, but trailed only 30-23 at the break. Duke had made 47.1 percent of its shots, a disparity that should have yielded a 15-point lead. But the Gamecocks had held the Blue Devils, possessed of the nation’s best collection of offensive talent, to eight buckets. South Carolina had gotten a grip on the Dukies.

“Our guys were nervous,” Martin said. “This was a new platform for them. I was nervous for our guys. Once the half started to settle down, I was happy with the way we were defending. You can’t have these kids who’ve been through what they’ve been through the past four years and not feel positive about them.”

Then the darnedest thing happened. The team that managed 23 points in Half No. 1 went about the business of scoring 65 in Half No. 2. (On the season, South Carolina had 10 games when it didn’t break 65.) Chris Silva, a sophomore center from Gabon, scored 13 points after the break, nearly four above his per-game average. Rakym Felder, a freshman point guard from Brooklyn, scored 14 second-half points, nearly three times his per-game average.

And Duke? It wasn’t itself, mostly because South Carolina wouldn’t let it be. “It’s the toughest defense we’ve played against all year,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought we were playing our butts off. We got worn down. It’s the most physical game we’ve been in all year.”

Martin: “We attacked. We didn’t pull the quick trigger. We told them, ‘They’re in a little foul trouble. Attack the rim.’ Chris Silva played like a grown man.”

Three Duke starters – Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum and Matt Jones – fouled out. Krzyzewski burned his next-to-last timeout with 8:38 to go. “Just trying to do anything we can,” he said. “The game was very complex in the second half with the fouls. Just juggling a little bit.” Not much worked. The Devils were outscored by five baskets and outrebounded by five; they made 18 turnovers to the Gamecocks’ 11. They were the more talented team but, on the only night that mattered, not the better one.

Down the stretch, part of you kept thinking as Martin was thinking: That Krzyzewski would conjure up something. But South Carolina kept beating the press and making free throws and sustaining its lead. A team that hadn’t made the SEC semis was starting down Duke in the NCAA Round of 32, and all the while Thornwell was telling himself, “One play at a time. Just finish the game.”

When finally it ended, Krzyzewski was gracious toward the setting, declining the opportunity to gripe about having to play a No. 7 seed in its state. “I’d like to thank the organizing committee, the people of Greenville,” he said. “They were proud to have the NCAA tournament here.”

For his part, Martin thanked the great Krzyzewski for having inspired “a young high school coach who was the son of a Cuban immigrant for wanting to do this as a career.” An impassioned game yielded a sweet ending.

And in the South Carolina locker room, Perry Clark – once Bobby Cremins’ assistant at Georgia Tech, later head coach at Tulane and Miami, now a Martin aide – reminded an old Atlanta acquaintance of something he’d said Friday night before the Gamecocks beat Marquette. If they got to Duke, Clark averred, “we’ve got a little something for them.” Sure enough …

What, Clark was asked, did he know? “Frank Martin,” he said. “Frank Martin is a great coach.”

This wasn’t Martin’s first rodeo. He’d taken Kansas State to the Elite Eight. But he’d never beaten Duke to do it. He’d never hugged Jadeveon Clowney afterward. He’d never had this shining moment. Now he does.

Dance music:

North Carolina survives and advances, if only just.

Can the SEC hit the ACC with a Sunday punch?

Memo to Villanova: You can’t win ’em, and don’t play Wisconsin.

Down goes Notre Dame. So much for my all-ACC Final Four, huh?

Blueblood blowouts: Duke wins big; North Carolina wins bigger.

Once nearly a champ, Texas Southern’s Mike Davis burns to win one NCAA game.

The NCAA tournament — a drama in three acts.

Fearing embarrassment, Indiana opts to play at Tech — and loses.

This NCAA tournament’s Talking Point — 10th-seeded Wichita State.

A Bracket Fiasco first: I’m picking an All-ACC Final Four.

Duke shades North Carolina as the ACC delivers a big finish in the Big Apple.

On cue, the ACC has become the best basketball league ever.

Ever wonder why Roy Williams has critics? This game right here.

The ACC’s rising stars: Mike Brey and Notre Dame.

Duke-Louisville: Great game, great coaches, greatest quarterfinal ever.

Duke hasn’t been what we expected, but it’s still Duke.

Overachieving Tech hits the wall. So what’s next for Josh Pastner?

Tech’s bubble bursts, but in no way was this team a bust.

A bridge too far – the ACC tournament in Brooklyn.

Reader Comments 0

27 comments
dut39611
dut39611

 Do you use a paypal account ? because if you do you can include an extra 950 a week in your pay-check working on the internet five hours every day... go to this

www.cash.jobs34.com

Big Wally
Big Wally

ACC only 1 team left. As much as ESPN tries to pump them up, put them on the court and they fall over their own feet.

chickman
chickman

Mark,  

Can I re--do my Bracket....  please?

C Hickman

Dooner46
Dooner46

Ed Hardin here in Greensboro was complaining about home court advantage for SC. What about home court advantage Duke and NC in Greensboro all these years.

Dooner46
Dooner46

All you hear now in NC the HB-2 caused the upset. You sports writers will not even tell the real story of HB-2, the Charlotte mayor.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

Miracles still happen, right Bradley. They happen at least

every 45 years.. LOL  SEC  LOL

Big Wally
Big Wally

ACC was grossly overrated.  

Big 12 = 3 teams left,

Big 10 = 3 teams left,

SEC = 3 teams left,

Pac 12 = 3 teams left.


Pitiful ACC only 1 team left.  


Much like Ohio State not belonging in the football playoffs, neither did the ACC warrant 9 teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.   They never learn.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

@Big Wally Pitiful ACC only needs ONE team to take the championship genius. ACC owns college basketball.

Watch some and you will start to learn...Only 6 ACC

were ranked in top 20 at seasons end..ha,ha   sorry

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

@Big Wally ACC should have included the entire conference in the big dance....

Big Wally kind of slow...

Big Wally
Big Wally

@LOGS1973 @Big Wally Sorry, you can't have it both ways moron.  You techsters keep saying how the SEC is only bama, so I guess you are saying that the ACC is only NC.  


Next!

Big Wally
Big Wally

@LOGS1973 @Big Wally SC beats Duke, Florida destroys UVA, and the ref's allowed NC to beat Ark.  The mighty ACC was only 1-2 vs SEC the other day chump.  Suck on that dose of reality.

Falcons2013
Falcons2013

Its easy to say South Carolina shocked Duke given the Duke name and tournament history. If you truly watched Duke this year you would not be so shocked. I watched a lot of Duke basketball and they lacked a true point guard and teams dominated them in the paint. If their 3 pointers were falling they could score their way out of it but go cold and die by the three. The team took numerous losses during the season including to VT, Cuse and NC state who did not even make the tournament. South Carolina was a tough match up as the lack of a true ballhandler  and SC incredible pressure D resulted in endless turnovers. With their foul trouble under the basket they couldn't stop SC in the paint in the second half. the result was not so shocking despite the names on the jerseys. The team had great young talent but among injuries, Coach K being out and Grayson Allens incidents, it never became the team that was expected and had to win the ACC as a lower seed. Duke being "shocked and stunned" are easy headlines but if you really watched would be shocking if they made it to Final Four. The poor performance by the ACC as a whole is at least surprising including that ARK had UNC dead to rights

Shocking remains blowing a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl due to bad coaching decisions and that still remains a much more painful fresh disaster than anything that happened last night.That is a future 30 for 30 special or % reasons you cant blame....special.

Falcons2013
Falcons2013

It was more surprising they strung together 4 in four days in the ACC tournament given their lack of the double bye. You must not have noticed they lost 3 out of 4 going into ACC tournament. It was unlikely they could live by the 3, not play D and string together 6 in the big dance.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Falcons2013

Like I said, you expected SC to lose--like virtually everyone else did--and you sure as hell wouldn't have given Duke 7.

Hindsight's 20/20.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Falcons2013

Oh come on, now. That game last night was a shocker; you sure as hell wouldn't have bet on SC and given Duke 7.

TOJacket
TOJacket

ACC final four isn't looking to good Mark.

Big Wally
Big Wally

@LOGS1973 @tipstotips Not this year.  Every power 5 conference has more teams left.  Heck, I think even the Big East has more teams left.  Lot's of ACC losing going on in this tournament.  See ya next year chump.

Peachs
Peachs

Who knew the SEC could play basketball, or the ACC could play football?  The state of South Carolina is good at reversing our normals.


I think K gets away with homer calls, even on the road, in the ACC. He then hits the tournament soft, and USC obviously was not getting any love from anybody, and hit the tournament tough as nails. I love how USC lines up in a defensive line, at half court and not let the bigs get under the basket. This guy Martin doesn't sound like a genius, but he coaches like one. 

urh17851
urh17851

Bailey . if you, thought Linda `s rep0rt is inconceivable... last saturday I bought a new Chrysler from earning $8160 this - 4 weeks past and also ten-k this past-month . it's by-far the most comfortable work Ive ever done . I started this 6 months ago and immediately started to bring in more than $85... p/h.

www.cash.pro70.com

Ron the ATLien
Ron the ATLien

All of Gamecock Nation thanks you for such a great column Mark