GREENVILLE, S.C. — Duane Notice knew it was his fault.
Marquette’s Markus Howard had just raced by Notice to score an easy two and the senior guard knew he was to blame. But there’s a pattern his teammates have noticed in Notice this season.
“The thing about Duane is when he messes up on defense, he is getting it back,” senior guard Sindarius Thornwell said.
Notice did it again, picking up Howard at halfcourt on the next Marquette possession, pressuring him and forcing an over-and-back turnover. Thornwell came down and hit a 3-pointer to tie the game 49-49 and the game was never the same again.
The senior guard for the Gamecocks wasn’t the flashy player Friday night – that was Thornwell – and he wasn’t coming up with thunderous dunks – those came from PJ Dozier. But the Gamecocks wouldn’t have won without Notice, who guarded the way he has all season long and was paramount in South Carolina’s 93-73 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s our heart to our defense,” Dozier said. “He doesn’t get enough credit. He is probably the best on-ball defender in the country. That’s what we think as his teammates. We stand besides him. He really makes our defense.”
Dozier’s refrain was echoed all around the South Carolina locker room Friday night. All his backcourt teammates said Notice doesn’t get the credit he deserves for setting the tone for a team that prides itself on defense.
“Duane has been playing like that all season,” Thornwell said. “Nobody is giving him the recognition he deserves. Without Duane hitting the ball up, I’m not able to get a line and go guard the way I guard. Nobody is able to defend the way they defend without Duane. Duane is the head of our defense. Without him, our defense doesn’t work the way it works.”
Night in and night out, Notice draws the assignment at the head of the South Carolina defense. He’s up top, picking up the defense at halfcourt and the rest of the defense falls into place around him.
It’s those moments when coach Frank Martin tells him he’s guarding the ball that Notice said make him realize the type of defender he is.
“Duane’s a bulldog,” Martin said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach unbelievable players in my career. I can’t think of two or three guys that do a better job than Duane on the ball.”
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Notice found his desire to be a lockdown defender from playing with high-caliber offensive players growing up. Teams he played for didn’t need him to be a big scorer with players like former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins and former Syracuse star Tyler Ennis on the floor.
So Notice searched for a role and locked in on being a menace defensively.
“It comes from pride,” Notice said. “To find myself a way to stay on the court, I had to impose my will on defense and become a stopper. I take pride in making sure guys don’t score on me. At the end of the day, you’ve gotta score the most points. If you can hold a team to score less points than you, you’ll win the game.”
On Friday night, when South Carolina needed a tone-setter more than ever when Marquette started out hot, it turned to the player that Hassani Gravett described as “a pitbull on the ball.”
Notice pestered Marquette’s best 3-point shooters in Howard and Andrew Rowsey, who scored 30 points against the Gamecocks when he played for UNC-Asheville two years ago. That wasn’t lost on Notice and the intensity the Gamecocks played with for the final 30 minutes of the game started with him.
“That’s because of him,” Thornwell said. “He brought the intensity. He had the point guard rattled. He had the point guards playing a pace they usually don’t play. He had them playing at half court. When he got them out there, our defense is a lot more aggressive. He is the one that turned the pressure up.”
He did it for 35 minutes Friday night, but it came as no surprise to the Gamecocks. Notice had been doing it all along.
“His defense is unbelievable,” senior guard Justin McKie said. “For four years, he has been the guy that we put on the point guard to get us stops and hassle the point guard. He did an unbelievable job tonight.”