GLENDALE, Ariz. — South Carolina basketball made it all the way to the third weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but it could not make it to the final step.
And it came oh-so-painfully close after it looked like all was lost. The Gamecocks made a frantic second-half comeback, as they have so many times in the postseason. But it was not enough, as the No. 1-seeded Zags had too much in the end. The Gamecocks’ historic run halted Saturday afternoon in Arizona and a 77-73 heartbreaker at the hands of fellow first-time Final Four participant Gonzaga that ended South Carolina’s unforeseen run at a national title one game short of Monday’s national championship game.
South Carolina rattled off a 16-0 run in the second half to take a 67-65 lead with 7:05 to play, but a Zach Collins 3-pointer and back-to-back Przemek Karnowski hoops flipped the game back for the Zags after USC has seized control after missing it for the first 33 minutes of the game.
USC kept it close down to the final seconds, but could not get a crucial hoop in the final 1:45 of the game when it was down one possession throughout. Gonzaga fouled Sindarius Thornwell with 3.5 seconds left. The senior made the first, but missed the second and Gonzaga grabbed the rebound up two with 2.2 seconds left.
Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie made a pair of free throws, ending the Gamecocks’ season.
PJ Dozier led the Gamecocks with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Thornwell had 15 in his final game after leading a tremendous run all the way to the Final Four. Chris Silva had a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The Gamecocks had been a ferocious second-half team throughout the tournament, coming back to win against Marquette, Duke and Florida after trailing at the half. But Gonzaga was too much, with too many weapons and withstood the insane 3-minute stretch
Karnowski kicked out to an open Williams-Goss at the top of the key early in the second half and the junior guard hit to put the Gamecocks down 11 — their largest deficit of the tournament. It grew as big as 14 from there, with Williams-Goss converting a three-point play to send South Carolina seemingly spiraling toward a blowout loss.
But the Gamecocks had a final major push left in them, not going down without a final say in the game.
Silva converted a three-point play after USC fell behind 65-51. Dozier made a jumper and kicked to Thornwell for a three, setting the South Carolina fan section off wildly for the first time since early in the first half.
Dozier was good again on a midrange jumper, Thornwell drew a charge and Silva made a pair of free throws. Then Dozier tied the game with a tall shot over Karnowski to tie the game 65-65 and Rakym Felder made a pair of free throws to give USC its first lead since a Dozier three put them Gamecocks up 10-8 in the first.
Gonzaga came out of the locker room cruising in the first half, hitting 57.6 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from 3-point range. The Gamecocks tied the game twice in the first half — 26-26 and 31-31 —but both times the Zags swung the game right back in their favor with 3-pointers from Jordan Matthews.
Thornwell, who battled an illness all week, did not score from the field until a 3-pointer from the corner with 3:03 to play in the first half hit front rim and bounced through.
Player of the game
The Gonzaga junior guard was dynamite, scoring in a variety of ways and proving a nightmare for the Gamecocks all game.
What’s next for South Carolina basketball
An offseason of working to replace a lot of key pieces to try and make another run in 2017-18.