NEW YORK — Sedee Keita watched from the bench Friday night as Baylor made a run to cut into South Carolina basketball’s hefty lead.
The Gamecocks freshman forward knew then that the next chance he had to get in the game could be important and he came in wanting to bring energy to his team. He did just that, racing across the court to track down a long offensive rebound, throwing it back into play and leading to a pair of Sindarius Thornwell free-throw attempts, along with a dose of encouragement from the USC senior.
“It feels good to make a good play and have a guy like Sin, our leader, encourage me,” Keita said.
The freshman has been making more of those plays lately, doing it again in South Carolina’s 70-50 win Friday night to advance to the program’s first Elite Eight. He has provided an added lift as a third post player recently, giving more reliable minutes and allowing starters Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar to take a breather.
“His energy has been great,” Thornwell said. “The way he is coming in and giving Chris and Maik minutes and giving them rest, he has been rebounding and playing hard and being positive and giving us great energy.”
When Keita wasn’t on the court Friday night at Madison Square Garden, he often was frantically waving his arms at the crowd, imploring the USC faithful — of which there were many — to be loud and cheer on the team as it wore down Baylor.
It’s that same energy that the Gamecocks say he has brought to the floor when he comes in, but there’s still work to be done for the highly-recruited Keita.
“He’s behind what we need him to be offensively but defensively, he’s being active,” coach Frank Martin said. “He blocked 2 shots in the first half today, came up with a huge offensive rebound in a part of the game that allowed us to run a whole minute off the clock and shorten the game. Sedee is very active. He’s long, he doesn’t understand our offensive concepts, so it’s hard to stay out there sometimes, but defensively, he helps us.”
Keita played 13 minutes Friday, a total he has bested only once since Jan. 21. He didn’t score, grabbing a pair of rebounds and blocking those aforementioned 2 shots.
“You could say my confidence is growing,” Keita said. “I just try to go out there and practice hard, understand what we are doing out there and play as hard as I can. … I feel like I’m keying in on what we have to do in the game and then going out and playing as hard as I can.”