GREENVILLE, S.C. — Trailing by one and coming out of a timeout, Frank Martin turned to Chris Silva and drew up a perfect momentum-snatching and lead-claiming play.
It almost didn’t go as planned — Sindarius Thornwell said Duane Notice almost messed up the play — but Silva skied, snatched Thornwell’s pass from the air and slammed it through the hoop as rising cheers turned to a roar.
South Carolina took a 39-38 lead in Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game, and everything changed. Now the Gamecocks are headed to the Sweet 16 thanks in large part to Silva.
Silva had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Gamecocks, leading the second-half charge by scoring 10 of the first 21 points as they stormed back an 88-81 victory over Duke.
“He was terrific,” Thornwell said. “The way he posted and finished around the rim and made his free throws and rebounded, we can’t ask nothing more from him. He just played great for us.”
A sophomore forward, Silva really got the rally moving with back-to-back thunderous dunks, the latter coming after the timeout.
“That was the greatest feeling, especially hearing the fans screaming in the background,” Silva said. “That was great.”
Silva has been plagued by foul trouble this season, but he averages 10 points per game in barely more than 20 minutes. He got all the way to 30 minutes against Duke, putting on display the type of player he is when he stays on the floor for extended time.
“That was the Chris Silva we see every day in practice,” Notice said. “For him to bring it out on the court in the big stage is amazing. We just want to continue to make sure he is confident and keep him out of foul trouble and keep him aggressive. When he is aggressive, good things happen down low.”
Early on against the Blue Devils, Silva was out of sorts — understandably nervous on a big stage in the biggest game of his career. Silva said he was not assertive enough in playing in the post, especially offensively.
“In the second half when I came in, all the players told me to be strong down there,” Silva said. “I was posting up and they did a great job finding me. I was just making basketball plays.”
Calling them “just basketball plays” is a bit tame for the player who sparked a comeback in arguably the biggest win in program history.
Coach Frank Martin had a better word for Silva’s play: “Huge.”
“That was a big part of what we wanted to do, which was get the ball inside,” Martin said. “Chris was very nervous. He had opportunities in the first half to score and he missed shots, fumbled balls, but he stayed with it. To start the second half, we made it a point to throw it to him and he played strong and unbelievably proud of him.”