Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer 243d

Suffocating defense keeps South Carolina moving on

NEW YORK -- South Carolina brought a little Greenville magic to Madison Square Garden, converting a building of jaded Northeasterners into charmed Gamecocks fans.

But make no mistake. There is nothing cute or sweet about these Gamecocks. They are nasty -- and that is meant in the best sense of the word. South Carolina, which hadn’t even won an NCAA tournament game since 1973, now stands 40 minutes from the Final Four, rolling behind a heady steam of defense into the Elite Eight.

No. 7 seed South Carolina obliterated, embarrassed and otherwise steamrolled third-seeded Baylor 70-50 on Friday, making a team that includes two 7-footers and enough muscle to win a bodybuilding contest look more like lousy-shooting middle schoolers.

You have to dig deep in the archives to find a worse scoring night for the Bears, all the way back to March 13, 2015, when Baylor scored just 52 against Kansas.

That, however, is less a byproduct of Baylor’s woeful offense than it is of the South Carolina defense. With each passing half, these Gamecocks are playing harder and getting meaner. They rallied past Duke in the second half on Sunday by holding the Blue Devils to just 38 percent shooting after intermission.

The Gamecocks one-upped themselves against the Bears, holding Baylor to just 28 percent in the first half, 37 percent in the second and 30 percent overall for the game. A dominant post team in Baylor practically withered in the face of South Carolina’s mix of zone and man defense, with the Gamecocks doubling everything. On the off chance Baylor had an open shot, the Bears seemed so flat-out stunned to be open, they missed badly.

Plenty of folks might not have believed in South Carolina a week ago, but as the Gamecocks roll on, their defense is making more and more converts with every stop.

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