Secure the bag.
It’s just one of the phrases you’d see or heard mentioned by South Carolina players throughout the season in their quest to win a national title. After an intense battle with SEC East rival Florida for the right to play in this year’s Final Four, they’re one step closer.
Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier combined for 43 points and South Carolina is one step closer to “securing the bag” thanks to a 77-70 win over the fourth-seeded Gators.
"Just unbelievably, just a surreal moment," said Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin. "You focus in on chasing young kids around, hoping that they grow up and believe and you end up with guys like these guys right next to me and their teammates that have the courage to come back every day and do more. And just -- I'm just out of words. Our of words. Just extremely proud of these guys."
Both teams opened the game shooting well from the floor, but South Carolina would force seven early Florida turnovers to help them take a 24-20 lead. But Florida battled back. The Gators would go on a 20-8 run that would allow the East Region’s third seed to go into the break with a 40-33 lead at halftime. It was the third time in four games where Carolina trailed at the half.
"We just have been in that situation," said Thornwell. "Like you said, so many times, when were played Florida at home, we was in that same situation down seven at half. We played Duke. We was down. Marquette, we [were] down. We felt like we [were] doing the right things. We felt like everything was going good for us, it was just the ball wasn't falling in and we just needed a couple more stops. So going into halftime, we always just buckled in and locked in on what we needed to do to win and took it one possession at a time."
South Carolina charged back in the second half. Maik Kotsar’s work in the paint ignited a 12-4 run for the Gamecocks putting them ahead 51-48 with 10:44 to go. Still, Florida battled back keeping the game close. The Gators made one final charge for the lead when Chris Chiozza made a tough layup with 3:48 to go giving Mike White’s squad a 63-61 lead.
From there, it was all South Carolina.
The Gamecocks finished the game on a 16-7 run to clinch their first-ever Final Four berth.
"It's a blessing," said Dozier. "It's a blessing. Personally, I didn't know where this program could go, but I know that when Frank Martin stepped foot on campus, you just got this vibe that the ball was rolling. And the progress, like you could see it every year, every year, every day that we go to each practice. They got better. Each year, they got better. Statistically, it showed. Just the sense that coach didn't promise us anything, but he did promise us that, if we had faith in him and we listened to what he had to say and we did what he said to do, that we would be successful here and it shows."
South Carolina will take on West Regional champion Gonzaga on April 1. Tip-off is set for 6:09 p.m.
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