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Sindarius Thornwell reinstated after missing six games

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina standout guard Sindarius Thornwell apologized to his teammates and fans after his reinstatement Monday without shedding light on why he was suspended for the past six games for an unspecified violation of athletic department policy.

Thornwell, the team's top scorer and rebounder, will return when the Gamecocks (10-3) open SEC play at Georgia on Wednesday night.

"I don't want to go into details about it," Thornwell said when asked about the reason for his suspension.

Thornwell was arrested in May and charged with marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license. His suspension from the team was announced Dec. 4.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions," he said. "I am humbled and excited to be back on the court with my brothers and excited about conference play."

With Thornwell in the lineup, South Carolina was 7-0, including wins over Michigan and Syracuse in the same week, and ranked No. 20. The Gamecocks have since gone 3-3, including a loss at Memphis on Friday, and have fallen from the rankings during his absence.

Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said he and athletic director Ray Tanner reviewed Thornwell's suspension and found that he had done everything he was asked and deserved reinstatement.

"Sindarius has taken full responsibility for his mistake that led to his suspension," Martin said in a statement. "He has worked hard over the course of the last few weeks and has done everything we've asked of him to make his way back to the court."

Thornwell's absence sped up the learning curve for Martin's roster, which features nine first-year players. Martin said starting point guard PJ Dozier and sophomore forward Chris Silva had to raise their games with Thornwell on the bench.

Newcomers such as guards Rakym Felder and Hassani Gravett also have benefited from increased playing time with Thornwell out.

"I really, really like what I've seen from our guys there the last six games," Martin said.

Thornwell has averaged 18.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists in seven games. Without Thornwell, South Carolina lost tight games to Seton Hall (67-64) at Madison Square Garden and rival Clemson (62-60) at home before Friday's loss to Memphis.

"It was difficult for me to watch," said Thornwell, who continued practicing with the team during his suspension. "But the team grew and I grew from the sidelines."

With Thornwell back, the Gamecocks once more have the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, who was voted a first-team All-SEC preseason pick by league coaches. Thornwell is South Carolina's best at driving to the basket, Martin said, something that was lacking at times in a few of the team's losses.

Thornwell's return should also open up some space for outside shooters like senior Duane Notice, who was 0-for-8 in the Memphis loss. Notice is averaging 10 points per game this season.

"He's able to penetrate and get so much attention," Notice said of Thornwell. "It kind of helps our game tremendously."

Thornwell said practicing the past month should keep the rust to a minimum. He also said it helped him maintain his leadership role with his younger teammates.

"I made a mistake. I take responsibility for it," he said. "But during these past six games, I still led from the sidelines, I still remained positive, I still let my voice be heard."

ESPN's Jeff Goodman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.