GREENVILLE, S.C. — Just eight days after the high of winning four games in four days to claim the ACC Tournament Championship, the Duke Blue Devils’ season came to a stunning end Sunday night in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
The second-seeded Blue Devils (28-9) fell 88-81 to seventh-seeded South Carolina (24-10), who benefited from 65 second-half points and 18 Duke turnovers.
“Before you were able to come in there, I told them I love these guys,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
“I’m proud of them. I’m disappointed that we didn’t win tonight. But at the end of the season I want my guys to either be crying because we’ve lost or crying because we’ve just won.”
South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell was a thorn in Duke’s side, leading all scorers with 24 points, while Chris Silva added a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds).
“They were able to cause some turnovers and get some easy buckets,” Luke Kennard said.
“Thornwell’s a great player [that] made some big plays. We weren’t able to hit some shots. Their physicality took over a little bit.”
With USC shooting just 20 percent, Duke led by as many as 10 in the first half, and took a 30-23 lead to halftime.
The Gamecocks came out looking like the hungrier team in the second half, and lit it up from everywhere on the court.
South Carolina shot a blistering 71.4 percent (20-for-28) from the field in the final 20 minutes, and Duke had no answer defensively.
“They never gave up,” Frank Jackson said.
“You might expect a team to be down after getting behind like that, but they came back with full energy. They got going in the second half and we had a few turnovers. They were able to make plays and catch up.”
After being outrebounded 21-18 in the first half, the Gamecocks stepped it up on the boards in the second with a 19-13 rebounding advantage.
“It’s the most physical game we’ve been in all year,” Krzyzewski said.
“And then we were in a lot of foul trouble. So you just try and patch up, put — I wish we had some of that tape that doesn’t let water into the boat.”
Amile Jefferson came to play in his final game as a Blue Devil, scoring 14 points and 15 rebounds.
Grayson Allen scored 20 points, while freshmen Jayson Tatum and Jackson each scored 15.
“I felt like we could come back all the way to the very end of the game,” Allen said.
“We’ve done it so many times before. And so I know all it took was a few shots and a few stops. But South Carolina, they did a great job of knocking down their free throws down the stretch. And they kept the game away from us.”