GREENVILLE, S.C. — South Carolina basketball players know. They all know.
They know they will take the floor at Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena around 8:15 p.m. and at approximately 8:40 the game will tip off against Duke. And they know there won’t be any starry eyes seeing the name Duke on a jersey.
“It makes me think of being recruited, we weren’t good enough to go there,” senior guard Duane Notice said. “As a team, we want to show them we tie our shoes the same way, we put on our jerseys the same way and we all play basketball.”
Sunday night is filed under moments that the Gamecocks have dreamt about, playing in the NCAA Tournament against one of college basketball’s most storied programs. There’s a berth in the Sweet 16 in New York City on the line, as the Gamecocks seek to reach another program milestone that hasn’t been reached sine 1973.
For Notice and the Gamecocks, the mystique of Duke basketball hasn’t been on their minds since the matchup was set after USC’s 20-point win against Marquette on Friday.
They know about it to varying degrees, with many players having grown up in South Carolina. Senior guard Justin McKie said he did root for Duke growing up, but that changed. Senior guard Sindarius Thornwell was a die-hard North Carolina fan as a kid, actively rooting against the Blue Devils.
It’s Duke basketball, but the Gamecocks aren’t worried about needing to set that fact aside Sunday.
“At the end of the day, the game has gotta be played no matter what name is on the front of that jersey,” sophomore guard PJ Dozier said. “It’s our next opponent. That’s what we see them as. We have to come out and respect who they are definitely, but also believe in what we do.”
The Gamecocks are underdogs in a matchup of their pressuring on-ball defense against Duke’s long, dynamic offense. Naturally, the Gamecocks welcome the notion. For many players, that’s the chip on the shoulder that has added motivation every year, whether it be from being picked to finish near the bottom of the league or not feeling respected nationally.
In that way, Sunday night is just another day at the office for the Gamecocks, who have spent this season seeking to put South Carolina basketball increasingly on the map.
“If you are a competitor, you relish the opportunity to play somebody like (Jayson) Tatum or Luke (Kennard) or Grayson Allen,” Notice said. “I know guys are not going to shy away from the moment.”
Coach Frank Martin said Saturday he has a “confident group of kids” and he was pleased with the way his players handled the moment of winning Friday night, putting to rest a 44-year wait for an NCAA Tournament win.
The stakes are a bit higher Sunday, with senior guard Sindarius Thornwell saying it probably is the biggest game he has ever played in. But it is, at the end of it all, just another basketball game with another basketball team.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Thornwell said. “We’re going in as the underdog. So we’re still going in with confidence, no pressure and just go in and have fun and just embracing the moment and just taking it all in and just giving it all our all and, hopefully, at the end of the game we have a chance to win the game.”