The leading scorer in the tournament coming into the Final Four at 25.8 per game, Thornwell scored 15 points and shot 4-for-12 from the field for seventh-seeded SC (26-11).
He made both, pushing the lead to an insurmountable four, and after the final buzzer Gonzaga players leapt at midcourt while the Gamecocks embraced one another and slowly walked to their bench. Instead of getting a chance for a tying three, SC was sent to the free-throw line for two shots with only three seconds left, as Gonzaga wisely and strategically fouled to give it the edge.
“The plan was to miss it left and hopefully Chris (Silva) could tap it out to somebody”, he said. Everything worked according to plan from there.
Behind a game-high 23 points from Nigel Williams-Goss, No. 1-seed Gonzaga outlasted the No. 7 seed Gamecocks, 77-73, in the Final Four Saturday in Glendale, Arizona to earn a spot in Monday night’s title game.
Two No. 1 seeds, one in its first Final Four, the other a perennial contender, will meet for the NCAA national championship.
With a three-point lead and 12.7 seconds remaining, Few did the smart thing and gave an intentional foul at the proper time.
Gonzaga’s defense certainly did its share in limiting what Thornwell did on the floor, but he wasn’t the same player he had been in Greenville or NY when he nearly single-handedly led the Gamecocks past the likes of Duke, Baylor and Florida. He returned in the second half and was a dominating presence inside.
Despite having just five turnovers to Gonzaga’s 12, Frank Martin’s USC team just couldn’t find the offense they needed to get the job done. “They forced me to pass it out on my drives. So every game I try to do the same thing, just try to rim protect without fouling”, Collins said.
“The journey we’ve been on has been unreal”, said Williams-Goss after the game.
“We had been practicing it all year and we always want to foul under 6 (seconds)”, Few said.
“I feel like it’s affecting my shot a little bit, just the lift”, Berry said. For the fourth time in the tournament SC trailed at the half. “I was fine. I was fine the whole game”.
Gonzaga came out of the locker room cruising in the first half, hitting 57.6 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from 3-point range. He starts two seniors and three juniors. Gonzaga was led by Williams-Goss who finished with 23. Guard play leads to championships in this tournament and Williams-Goss could be the latest chapter of that notion for the Bulldogs come Monday. Sometimes we stayed on his – trailed his screens. When CBS’s Tracy Wolfson asked him what he was going to tell his players after this loss, he had a poignant response.
That changed with South Carolina’s run, as Thornwell hit a critical three in that stretch to energize the team and Gamecock crowd. I think Przem was open on the low post.