More on the Gamecocks’ win against Duke to earn unexpected trip to Sweet 16

Welcome to SEC Country’s Chicken & Waffles, your daily dish for all things South Carolina Gamecocks football, basketball and more. Miss a previous edition? Find every edition of SEC Country’s South Carolina Gamecocks Chicken & Waffles right here.

Did that actually happen? Did that actually just happen?

The Gamecocks completed an improbable run to Madison Square Garden for the Sweet friggin 16, on the heels of an unbelievable 88-81 win against Duke (DUKE!) in front of a massive pro-USC (or anti-Duke) crowd in Greenville on Sunday. Oh, by the way, this is the USC’s first Sweet 16 since 1973.

RELATED: South Carolina basketball downs Duke, moves to Sweet 16

Sindarius Thornwell was sensational, scoring 24 points with 6 boards and 5 assists — but the SEC Player of the Year wasn’t alone in his spectacular play Sunday night. Chris Silva was a beast with 17 points, 10 boards and 2 blocks, while freshman PG Rakym Felder scoring 15 off the bench, including a clutch 9 of 10 from the free throw line.

It’s hard to put into words what this means for the program and for fans.

Getting a Top-25 ranking was one thing. Making the tournament was another. Winning a tournament game made the season a huge success. But beating Duke(!) in the NCAA tournament is not something I would’ve ever, EVER expected.

Full disclosure: To save time Sunday night, I wrote two versions of this intro for Chicken & Waffles. One looking at silver linings in a tough-fought loss to the Blue Devils — and another talking about how much a win meant.

I scrapped them both because a canned, boilerplate “we won” message can’t do this feeling justice. Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable.

First tourney win in 40-plus years

Before the highest of highs on Sunday, there was an impressive win on Friday — with the Gamecocks topping Marquette 93-72 in the first round.

The victory against the Golden Eagles was the Gamecocks’ first win in the tournament in 44 years — a fact that didn’t go unnoticed among national media.

RELATED: ‘It means the world:’ South Carolina basketball snaps NCAA Tournament streak 

Thornwell was sensational, turning heads all over the country with his 29-point, 11-rebound performance.

RELATED: Gamecocks’ Sindarius Thornwell tabbed as the best first-round performer

Lady Gamecocks punch ticket to Sweet 16

The No. 1-seeded Lady Gamecocks played up to their ridiculous standards over the weekend.

On Friday, USC cruised to a 90-40 win against UNC Asheville in round 1, moving on to top Arizona State, 71-68, in round 2.

With the win against the Sun Devils, the Lady Gamecocks head to their fourth consecutive Sweet 16, the fifth in coach Dawn Staley’s tenure — even more impressive as the team has done it without All-SEC F Alaina Coates.

Favre comes to Columbia

Brett Favre was on campus over the weekend for South Carolina’s coaches’ clinic.

RELATED: The benefits of Brett Favre’s presence, the kicking game and  Jake Bentley

The Hall of Fame quarterback was the keynote speaker on Friday night and even took to the field Saturday to throw it around with some current South Carolina players …

“It’s unbelievable. It really is (neat) for those guys to go out there,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Hayden Hurst looked at me and said, ‘I’m catching a pass from Brett Favre. How neat is that?’ It was all before practice started, but our receivers and tight ends went out there and caught some balls from him. It was kind of a pat-and-go situation. He loved it. He can still spin it.”

Muschamp’s approval rating

“But South Carolina’s improved record isn’t the only thing that should excite South Carolina fans,” noted SEC Country’s Connor Riley. “It appears that Muschamp found his quarterback in freshman Jake Bentley and the coach brought in a solid recruiting class to South Carolina — No. 21 in the 2017 recruiting cycle.”

SEC Country is checking the pulse of South Carolina fans and how they feel about their head coach.

RELATED: Approval rating for South Carolina coach Will Muschamp: You decide

Coach Muschamp came in sixth among his conference peers in the first poll with an 83.1 percent mark. In the latest poll, he’s on track for an ever higher rating, hovering around 92 percent.

Vote and find the latest results here.

McIlwain takes a visit

Former Gamecocks QB/OF Brandon McIlwain took the next step in his pending departure over the weekend: taking an official visit to Cal.

Reports listed Cal, Baylor, Virginia and Arizona as the early favorites to land the talented dual-sport athlete.

It really is a bummer to see McIlwain go, but it totally makes sense for him and his future. Best of luck, Brandon.

Baseball back on track

The No. 7 Gamecocks visited the No. 24 Volunteers over the weekend to open SEC play.

Hoops may hog the headlines, but South Carolina baseball was fantastic as well.

The Gamecocks topped Vols, 7-1, on Friday night, then clinched the series with a 6-4 victory on Saturday afternoon. USC added a 10-2 victory on Sunday afternoon to complete the sweep.

Coming off a pair of canceled games and a disappointing series against Clemson, this was exactly what the Gamecocks needed heading into their conference slate.

Cocky tweets

I assume this means he’ll root for us if we play the Gators again …

Twitter was just a blast Sunday night …

This rooster is my new spirit animal …

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