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Hostile environment awaits Duke men's basketball for Round of 32 tilt against No. 7 seed South Carolina

<p>Frank Jackson and the Blue Devils have improved defensively late in the season and will need to lock in on SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell.</p>

Frank Jackson and the Blue Devils have improved defensively late in the season and will need to lock in on SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell.

GREENVILLE, S.C.—The NCAA tournament selection committee's policies explicitly state that no top-four seed should be placed at a "home-court disadvantage" in the opening round.

They say nothing, however, about the Round of 32 and beyond.

After second-seeded Duke used a second-half defensive spurt to pull away from No. 15 seed Troy for an 87-65 victory at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena Friday evening, the Blue Devils will get no reward with their opponent Sunday.

A little more than 100 miles from its home in Columbia, S.C., No. 7 seed South Carolina got plenty of help from a rowdy Gamecock fanbase as it rode a 16-0 run in just four minutes to take out 10th-seeded Marquette 93-73 in Friday's nightcap. South Carolina's offense was carried by the tandem of Sindarius Thornwell and P.J. Dozier—both Palmetto State natives—who combined for 50 points on 57.6 percent shooting against the Golden Eagles, as the Gamecocks faced little defensive resistance from their first-round foe. 

But against Duke Sunday at approximately 8:40 p.m., they will likely have to rely on their defense—one that is ranked third in statistician Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency metric—rather than their offense to slow down a Blue Devil attack that is finally firing on all cylinders.

"Over time we've played better together and that’s like any other team," freshman Frank Jackson said. "But I think with our guys, we've really bought into what Coach has told us ­­and [we have] really been immersed in us. We’re getting the job done.”

Duke (28-8) was hot out of the gates against the Trojans, hitting seven of its first 10 triples en route to 58.8 percent long-distance shooting in the first half. Jackson, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and Grayson Allen all hit at least two 3-pointers, but the Blue Devils cooled off after halftime, knocking down just three of their 11 attempts.

South Carolina (23-10) faced a similar early barrage from Marquette, as the Golden Eagles opened the game 7-of-12 from beyond the arc.

From that point, though, the Gamecocks held former Duke player and assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski's team to just 4-of-16 shooting on 3-pointers. South Carolina comes into the game with the sixth best 3-point defense in the nation and held its opponents to 54 points or fewer six times during its perfect 8-0 start to the season, which included wins against Michigan and Syracuse. 

"They'll be as good of a defensive team as we've played against," Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They're together—every position is pressured, you have to work hard to get open and then they rebound well.... They are a physical team and when you're physical and you play hard, it usually means you've got a well-coached team."

Much of the credit for the Gamecocks' resurgence can be credited to head coach Frank Martin—the 50-year-old coach nearly helped South Carolina to its first NCAA tournament bid in more than a decade last season.

But after being denied a bid in 2016, the Gamecocks have already made the most of their opportunity in 2017, earning the program's first tournament victory since 1973.

"To be able to put our state on the map and represent our state just means a lot," Thornwell said. "When we first got here, the program wasn't in this situation, but now it is. [It] just shows that our work is paying off, and that after tomorrow's game hopefully we can be in a situation where we're celebrating."

Duke had success limiting ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson of North Carolina last week in the conference tournament semifinals to just 6-of-22 shooting and four rebounds, and the Blue Devils will need to slow down a similar all-around threat in Thornwell. The SEC Player of the Year leads South Carolina in both scoring and rebounding at 21.3 points and 7.3 boards per contest.

During the past month, Duke has clamped down defensively and did much of the same in the second half against Troy.

The Blue Devils' latest opponent scored 27 points after intermission, shooting just 35.7 percent from the field, and Duke has held opponents to 70 points or fewer seven times since Krzyzewski returned from back surgery Feb. 4. Krzyzewski has also started using more zone and zone press looks to slow down opponents.

"Guys are taking more of an emphasis on [the defensive] end," senior Matt Jones said. "We're preparing better, but at the same time, we're taking it more seriously, and it's showing."

With a vociferous crowd expected to make Sunday a quasi-road game for the Blue Devils, they will look for another fast start reminiscent of their early 16-4 outburst against the Trojans to quiet the Gamecock faithful and advance to the Sweet 16.

"We've played in hostile environments, especially on the road," graduate student Amile Jefferson said. "We know what it's like to play when it gets loud. What we have to do is play poised, play Duke basketball, play together and not really worry about anything else."


Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 

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