Duke's season came to an abrupt end with an 88-81 upset loss to No. 7 seed South Carolina in the NCAA tournament's Round of 32. The Gamecocks rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit with a friendly crowd in Greenville, S.C., cheering them on to advance to their first Sweet 16 in program history.
Revisiting the three keys to the game:
- A 'thorn' in the side: SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell had another big game, leading all players with 24 points and five assists. After scoring 11 of South Carolina's first 20 points, he went scoreless for nearly nine minutes, but made an impact with two critical 3-pointers and a driving layup during the Gamecocks' run to start the second half.
- Make it rain: Duke shot 5-of-8 from beyond the arc in the first half to get out to an early lead just like Marquette did against South Carolina Friday night in the first round. But the Blue Devils went cold after the break, missing the types of shots that kept them in games last week during their run to the ACC championship. Duke was just 5-of-19 from deep in the second half, and most of the misses were not even close. Luke Kennard shot an airball from the corner that was a few feet short, and Grayson Allen also left a few of his attempts short on the front rim.
- Quiet please: Bon Secours Wellness Arena was anything but quiet, turning into a true road environment in the second half packed with Gamecock fans that made the short drive from Columbia, S.C., and North Carolina fans left over from the first game of the session who were happy to jump on the South Carolina bandwagon for two hours. The Blue Devils, who went just 3-6 on the road in the regular season, never had a response to silence the hostile crowd during the Gamecocks' decisive run.
Three key stats:
- South Carolina scores 65 points in the second half: This was a baffling number for a Gamecock squad known far more for its defense than its offense, which averages a mediocre 73.1 points per game. After a 23-point first half in which South Carolina shot just 7-of-35 from the field, it shot 20-of-28 after the break, attacking the basket for easy points in the paint and knocking down 3-pointers when they were open. It was by far the most points Duke has allowed in a half all season.
- The Blue Devils commit 13 turnovers in the first half: The Gamecocks had no business even being in the game at halftime after a dismal offensive showing in the first 20 minutes, but Duke left the door open with a slew of giveaways to keep South Carolina within seven at the break. Although the Blue Devils shot 47.1 percent from the field in the first half, they only made one more shot than the Gamecocks and took 18 fewer attempts because of all the wasted possessions.
- Duke is whistled for 26 fouls: The officials were not letting either team get away with much contact Sunday, putting the Blue Devils in foul trouble early on. Four Duke players had at least two fouls by halftime, which may have affected the team's aggressiveness and defensive intensity in the second half, and Kennard, Matt Jones and Jayson Tatum all fouled out in the closing minutes to crush any hope of a miraculous comeback.
Three key plays:
- 15:19 remaining, second half: With Duke pressing up toward the perimeter in a zone, South Carolina forward Chris Silva sneaks behind the defense and throws down a lob from Thornwell to cap a 14-3 run and put the Gamecocks in front 39-38 for their first lead since early in the first half.
- 12:03 remaining, second half: P.J. Dozier dribbles the ball in the short corner, pump fakes to get Kennard in the air and finishes through contact to draw Kennard's fourth foul. Dozier converts the 3-point play to give South Carolina a 49-48 lead it would never relinquish.
- 8:52 remaining, second half: With the shot clock winding down, Maik Kotsar kicks a pass out to senior guard Duane Notice, who drills a 3-pointer from the wing to put the Gamecocks up 60-53. The Blue Devils never seriously threatened to get back in the game the rest of the way.
And the Duke game ball goes to.... Amile Jefferson
In the last game of his five-year career, Jefferson grabbed 15 rebounds for only his fourth double-digit rebounding game since December and added 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting. The 6-foot-9 forward also matched a career high with six blocks as the only Duke player that could handle South Carolina's physicality inside. Jefferson appeared to hurt his shoulder early in the game and had a contact lens fall out on two occasions, but battled to the bitter end on both offense and defense.
And the South Carolina game ball goes to.... Sindarius Thornwell
The Blue Devils have been victimized by good guard play all year, and Sunday was no different. Thornwell sliced up the Duke defense with 24 points on 6-of-14 shooting and attacked the basket hard to earn 12 free-throw attempts. The 6-foot-5 guard averaged 26.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in two contests this weekend to carry his team into the Sweet 16 and send the Blue Devils packing.