GREENVILLE, S.C. — It started with heads shaking. It grew into scowls and mumbles and before long, South Carolina basketball players started to see Duke fracture.
And that is when South Carolina senior guard Justin McKie knew the game had turned for the Gamecocks.
“They kind of starting arguing and bickering a little bit on the court because of our defense,” McKie said. “That is really when we felt like we had them and that we could take this thing home.”
This might sound familiar, but South Carolina won a game led by its smothering defense on Sunday. It was a spectacular showing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and combined with an offensive explosion in the second half, led to an 88-81 win in Greenville and a berth in the Sweet 16.
“It’s the toughest defense we’ve played against all year,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Very physical, actually the most physical game we’ve been in all year, but that’s how hard they play. …
“I thought we were playing our butts off. It was real and we got worn down. It’s the most physical game we’ve been in all year.”
The Gamecocks, as they have almost every game this season, brought it defensively, and the results were great. They forced Duke into committing a season-high 18 turnovers, scoring 16 points off the turnovers.
Krzyzewski complimented the way Frank Martin coaches the South Carolina defense, but said it goes behind sound technique.
“They add heart,” Krzyzewski said. “They add toughness. They add all the intangibles that go with great technique and then they’re committed to it. They played it at a high level and the game was very physical.”
Kzyezwski felt his players adapted “okay” to the physical nature, while the Gamecocks handled it much better.
“That is a great compliment from Coach K,” senior guard Duane Notice said. “For him to see our defense means a lot to us because we work very hard on it. Like I told people at the beginning of the year, Frank doesn’t even let us hold a basketball for two weeks. We just work on our defensive schemes and for it to come to fruition today means a lot. For other people to recognize our pressure, it means a lot to us.”
It was a similar tale to how the Gamecocks won Friday night against Marquette. Both games saw USC’s opponent score a lot early, hitting tough shots against the Gamecocks. But the second half was a completely different story in both games.
After Duke shot 47.1 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from 3-point range in the first half Sunday, the Gamecocks held Duke to just 38.9 percent shooting and 26.3 percent from behind the arc in the second half.
Surely enough, as senior guard Sindarius Thornwell said the Gamecocks see all the time, the Blue Devils were rattled by the physical nature. And that only served to make South Carolina guard harder and harder, buckling down to earn a trip to New York City to face Baylor on Friday night (7:29 p.m. ET, TBS).
“That’s what we leaned on,” Thornwell said. “That’s what we relied on was our defense. We work hard at it every day. We put in the work. It’s our job to showcase it when we play.”