GLENDALE, Ariz. — Frank Martin walked into a postgame locker room he had never been in before Saturday.
His South Carolina team had just lost in the Final Four, a game and a stage Martin had never coached on in his career. And in his first address to his players after a devastating, season-ending 77-73 loss to Gonzaga, he had praise for them.
“He was extremely proud of our fight,” sophomore guard Hassani Gravett said. “He is happy with the guys that he has on this team. He knew that we weren’t going to give up. He was upset with us in the first half. So to see us come back and fight and bring the game all the way back that close, he was definitely proud of us.”
The Gamecocks rallied from 14 down in the second half against Gonzaga at University of Phoenix Stadium, scoring 16 straight points to take a brief lead when all appeared lost in USC’s pursuit of a national title.
It was the same type of resilience the Gamecocks displayed throughout the NCAA Tournament, coming back from three halftime deficits on their way to the program’s first Final Four. With that fight showing up again, Martin’s postgame message was understandably positive despite a difficult outcome.
“He just told us to keep our heads up,” senior guard Justin McKie said. “Told us he was proud of us and told the guys that are coming back to build on what we did this year. Told us three seniors that are leaving to enjoy what we have accomplished over four years and that if we need anything, he and our Gamecock family would always be here for us.”
The Gamecocks graduate three seniors, bringing about a changing of the guard for South Carolina basketball. But that wasn’t what was on Martin’s mind on Saturday. He was feeling pride in the players he coached and bought into him on the way to building something at USC.
“This is the farthest he has made it,” Gravett said. “So he is happy. He was happy with our play even though we weren’t able to come out with the win.”