South Carolina has become a fickle team in many respects, but on Saturday night, we learned the Gamecocks are to be taken seriously.
Frank Martin’s group went into College Station and upset No. 8 Texas A&M, 81-78. The outcome gives 25th-ranked South Carolina its best win of the year and its first victory on the road against a top-10 team since it beat Florida 71-67 on Feb. 8, 2006, nearly 10 years to the day.
The Aggies were slowed and stunted by 17 turnovers. They were 64 percent from the line, and lost Jalen Jones in the final 1:15. They could have used Jones because when he left it was a 79-71 South Carolina lead, but A&M rallied to get the game to a three-point margin in the final 20 seconds. Alas, a bad shot and a turnover sealed the deal.
Sindarius Thornwell — USC’s best player — had a career-high 25 points, plus nine assists and six rebounds. It might be the best game he’s ever had, really. Martin no doubt will be thankful to see his junior stepping up like that. Michael Carrera added 20 points. Texas A&M had 16 apiece from Danuel House and Alex Caruso.
For the Gamecocks, this gets them very close to a lock-type situation for the NCAA tournament. Of course, they aren’t there yet — to me, lock status means you can literally lose every remaining game and reach the tournament. But here’s the bottom line: If South Carolina wins the rest of its home games, it’s going to reach the Big Dance and get a nice seed in the process. Nabbing a road victory against an A&M team that will likely be a No. 5 seed or better is going to boost USC’s overall profile.
Texas A&M will take a huge dip in the polls. This is the first time Billy Kennedy’s team has lost at home this season and the first time it’s taken on consecutive losses since the end of last season. The Aggies have dropped three of their past four and stand at 18-5. Up next, A&M is looking at two road games, against Alabama and LSU. If more losses are to come, we’ll adjust our perception on what was becoming a really good story nationally and in the SEC.