Gamecocks net NCAA “Final Four” berth

South Carolina became the seventh school with ties to the Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off to advance to a NCAA “final four” as the seventh-seeded Gamecocks posted a 77-70 come-from-behind win over fourth-seeded Florida Sunday at Madison Square Garden in New York to capture the East Regional title.

The Gamecocks ((Southeastern Conference, 26-10), who are scheduled to compete this November in the 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off, joins Memphis (2008), Villanova (2009), West Virginia (2010), Michigan (2013), Connecticut (2014) and Oklahoma (2016) as schools that played in the NCAA “final four” in the spring before visiting San Juan in the fall for the in-season tournament.

With four-straight wins after finishing pre-NCAA action by losing six of its final nine games, South Carolina eliminated SEC league rivals Florida (27-9) to advance to the “final four in Glendale, Ariz., this coming Saturday. The Gamecocks, who trailed the Gators 40-33 at half-time Sunday, defeated Florida for the second-time this season with the two schools winning at home during the SEC season.

The Gamecocks will challenge Gonzaga, the top seeds from the West Regional, in the national semi-finals as both schools will be will making their first trip to a NCAA “final four”. Gonzaga (36-1), which has never played South Carolina in men’s basketball, defeated 11th-seeded Xavier 83-59 Saturday in San Jose, Calif.

Senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, the SEC’s player-of-the-year, scored 26 points to lead the Gamecocks. South Carolina underclassmen PJ Dozier, Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar combined for 42 points and 15 rebounds as the trio teamed to make 15 of 27 shots from the field and 12 of 17 attempts from the free throw line.

Dozier, a 6-6 sophomore guard from Columbia, S., C., had 17 points by making seven of 11 shots from the field along with three-for-three at the free throw line. For the four NCAA games, Dozier has scored 61 points and handed out 10 assists while making 26 of 49 shots from the field.

A 6-9 sophomore forward from Libreville, Gabon, Silva led the Gamecocks in rebounding with nine caroms against the Gators while scoring 13 points with a nine-for-12 shooting at the free throw line. Dozier has scored 52 points and grabbed 31 rebounds in the NCAA tournament this month.

Kotsar, a 6-10 freshman from Tallin, Estonia, had his best game of the NCAA tournament with 12 points on six-of-10 field goal shooting. In the previous NCAA wins for the Gamecocks over Marquette (93-73), Duke (88-81) and Baylor (70-50), Kotsar was plagued by foul problems in two of the three games as he compiled only nine points on four-of-12 shooting from the floor.

In advancing farther in the NCAA tournament than any other South Carolina men’s squad, the Gamecocks defeated the second-, third- and fourth-seeded teams in the East Region as top-seeded Villanova was eliminated during the first weekend of play by eighth-seeded Wisconsin. Until this month, the Gamecocks hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1973.

South Carolina is the last of three schools scheduled to compete in the 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off still participating in the 2017 NCAA tournament. The other two NCAA teams – Florida State (Atlantic Coast, 26-9) and Iowa State (Big 12, 24-11) – were eliminated last weekend.

Boise State (Mountain West Conference, 20-12) and Illinois State (Missouri Valley, 28-7), two other 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off participants, played in the 2017 NIT and each split a pair of games. With five schools posting 20 or more wins this season, the combined record for the eight teams scheduled for the 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off is 170-99 (63.2 percent).

The 2017 Tire Pros Puerto Rico Tip-Off is scheduled for November 16, 17 and 19 in San Juan. Other schools competing in the three-day, 12-game bracketed in-season tournament will be Tulsa (American Athletic, 15-17), UTEP (Conference USA, 15-17) and Western Michigan (Mid-American, 16-16).

MARTIN MAGIC – When coach Frank Martin took over at South Carolina, the Gamecocks had just gone 10-21 overall and 2-14 in the SEC for the 2011-2012 season.  After 14-18, 14-20 marks in his first two seasons in Columbia, Martin’s teams have now posted 17-16, 25-9 and 26-10 records.  Following Sunday’s game, Martin called himself “the luckiest human being in the world.  But, without question, there was no luck involved in this performance.  It’s all these guys. They’ve been with us for a while. They believe in each other.  They put up with me, and go out and do it better the next day. They have the courage of a lion.”