COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sindarius Thornwell sat at the podium on Sunday at night at Colonial Life Arena with his fellow South Carolina basketball seniors on either side of him.
He spoke for himself, Justin McKie and Duane Notice when he answered a question about what it means for South Carolina to make the NCAA Tournament in their final year on campus. The idea of making a mark on a fledgling program with a new coach was paramount to bringing them to Columbia.
“I think I can speak for all of us, something that played a factor was building something here,” Thornwell said. “We didn’t want to just play somewhere and after we play it is over with. We wanted to come in and by the time we leave, we have something we could come back and say, ‘We started that’ or ‘That was us that did that.’
“For us to get this bid, it is one more thing we can say we did when our time is done.”
The Gamecocks are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004, reaching the goal they talked about with the back in early October and putting the heartbreak of being left out last season behind.
But for the three seniors, they felt a sense of real accomplishment in having done something huge for the program they bought into when they committed to play for Frank Martin.
“We felt like we came here to do a job,” McKie said. “We felt like we kind of accomplished it by making the tournament, especially after the disappointment from last year. It was a gratifying feeling.”
South Carolina will open at approximately 9:50 p.m. Friday night against Marquette in Greenville, S.C., playing in the first NCAA Tournament game the program has seen in 13 years.
But the Gamecocks, especially the seniors, don’t want that to be their final legacy, as the program has not won a game in the tournament since 1973. They have making a run beyond Friday on their minds, with a potential matchup with either No. 2 Duke or No. 15 Troy.
“This time of year, it’s the last one,” Thornwell said. “You just give it all you’ve got. We can’t get caught up in the moment. We have to say with it. Just have fun. I think this is the best way to go out. To come in with no chance to make the tournament to now playing in the tournament. Just because we are here, we are not complacent. We are not satisfied in just making the tournament.
“Our plan now is to make a run.”