(South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell draining free throws with 2:15 left in the game – Photo by Jason Schott)
South Carolina upset Syracuse, #18th in the national rankings, 64-50, in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational on Saturday at Barclays Center.
In the first half, South Carolina set the tone with stellar defense, as they held Syracuse to 35 percent shooting (8-23 from the field) and forced them to commit 11 turnovers.
PJ Dozier scored 11 points in the first half, and Sindarius Thornwell had 10, to lead South Carolina to a 37-26 lead at halftime.
In the second half, Syracuse went on a 10-2 run capped by an Andrew White III free throw, after he made a steal, that made it 42-38 South Carolina at the 14:39 mark.
South Carolina responded over the next minute, and a Duane Notice three made it 47-40.
Syracuse couldn’t get the deficit under five points, as a three from White III made it 51-46 South Carolina with 6:34 left.
Over the next five minutes, South Carolina’s stifling defense returned, and they went on a 13-2 run capped by a Maik Kotsar layup that made it 64-48 at the 1:26 mark.
Kotsar led South Carolina with 16 points on a superb 7-for-9 shooting, with two rebounds and an assist. Sindarius Thrnwell also had 16 points, on 3-6 from the field, 1-2 on threes, five assists, and three rebounds.
PJ Dozier had a double-double, with 15 points (7-16 FG, 1-4 threes) and 10 rebounds, as well as an assist for South Carolina.
Syracuse was led by Tyler Lydon, who had 18 points on 5-12 shooting, 3-5 on threes, and seven rebounds. Frank Howard and Andrew White III each had 10 points, with Howard shooting 3-7 from the field and 1-2 from behind the arc, and White III shot 3-9 overall and 1-5 from three.
South Carolina improved to 6-0, while Syracuse fell to 4-1 on the season.
South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin said of changing his approach to face Syracuse, “I went back and studied tape of the last game I ever coached at against Syracuse. i made a grave error because I tried to play behind the zone. I had never seen that game. When I watched it, I walked away thinking that they bait you to throw it in there. They want you to play behind it because they’re so big. You can’t throw those baseline diagonal passes because their guards are so big. I was watching that on the plane Wednesday night after the Michigan game. I slept on it and said I have to change what I did four and a half years ago. We needed to lift the zone. Rather than trying to play behind it, we needed to lift it. Once we lifted the zone, we looked for the cracks behind it so we had space to pass and shoot.
“Credit to our guys. Our guys were phenomenal. They listened, executed, and were in tune. We were a little careless in the second half, but we responded to their run. We pretty much kept them away from open court baskets. When you’re playing Syracuse, they kill you with open court baskets.”
Martin said of his team’s defense, “I pride myself defensively. I want to play a certain way defensively. It’s taken us four years to recruit a team that all the parts to play good defensively. Duane (Notice) and Sindarius (Thornwell) have guarded everybody. You name a player in the country; they’ve guarded them during their careers. They understand our system and are fearless in the moment.”
PJ Dozier said of the South Carolina defense, “Every game we come out and guard. That’s what our coaching staff and team prides itself on – defense. We make our offense out of our defense. We came into the game with a defensive mind.”
Dozier said of beating Syracuse’s zone defense, “It felt good. That was the gameplan. Coach told us to work the zone and get away from the one pass shot and get deep in the shot clock. We knew they would play a pretty tough zone. That’s what they’re known for. We were just trying to pick our spots and be able to get open shots.”
Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim said of the loss, “I thought South Carolina played great defense, the best defense that we have seen. Obviously, as good a defense as we’ve seen this year, but also as good a defense as we have seen in a long time. They were really, really good defensively. They started the game well. They moved the ball well. They made two tough threes right off the bat. From there, we were just working up hill.
“I thought in the second half we had a good run and got back in it, but we missed five straight free throws and missed layups. We can’t do that. (South Carolina) is a very good basketball team. We have a long way to go. We have five new guys. They looked a bit lost out there today. We have some work ahead of us. These games tell you that.
“(South Carolina) moves the ball well, and they are going to get it in (the lane). This was an offensive game. This wasn’t about our defense, this was about our offense.”