South Carolina trailed Duke, 30-23, at halftime in the Round of 32 on Sunday night, but after a quick run to begin the second half, Frank Martin knew his Gamecocks would be okay.
“The guys in our huddle, when I looked in their eyes, it was like, ‘We’re okay. We’ve got this,’” Martin said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “That’s a relationship that you only understand when you’re in that locker room with those guys every day. You can see it in their eyes when there’s doubt, and you can see it in their eyes when there’s belief. And in that moment right there, I said, ‘You guys and me, we are all so completely out of touch with reality that we refuse to give in. So now that we’ve gotten ourselves back into this thing, let’s go win.'”
>>MORE: NCAA Tournament Coverage
No. 7 South Carolina erupted for 65 second-half points and stunned No. 2 Duke, 88-81, to advance to the first Sweet 16 in program history. The game was in Greenville, South Carolina, which gave the Gamecocks a bit of a home-court boost.
“No doubt,” Martin said. “Here’s something that goes unsaid: We were 13th in the country in total attendance. We averaged 14,000 people a game. Our fans are just loving our guys, the way we play, they love the energy, how hard our guys play – they’ve become a part of it.”
The game was also meaningful for Martin for non-basketball reasons.
“Last year, we couldn’t host an NCAA event in our state because of the whole Confederate flag situation,” he said. “Well, that got resolved. So now we’re able to host an NCAA event, and we are in it, and we’re playing to go to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history against Duke, who, in my lifetime, you can argue has been the best basketball program that we’ve had. Just a powerful moment for basketball, our state, our team, our school – it was just an unbelievable moment for all those people involved.”
A small group of protestors organized Sunday before the second-round games. They were armed with Confederate flags, which waved all day and night.
Martin wasn’t a fan of the protest, but he respected the protesters’ right to organize.
“We live in the United States of America,” he said. “Do you think our state’s the only state that has a human being that owns a Confederate flag? They’re everywhere in our country. People have the right to do whatever they want on their property with what they own. It’s their right. That’s the beauty of our country. I can’t force people that want to believe in whatever they believe to change their minds out of just nastiness. It’s not going to work. I’d rather embrace the leadership of our state, our university, our communities that have been progressive to move forward. I’d rather educate and love than hate. So let’s focus in on what matters, which is the movement that’s taking place to make it better, and let’s not kind of focus in on what certain individuals want to do with their personal space and their personal rights. That’s their prerogative. (It’s) safe to say I’m not inviting those guys to dinner at my house anytime soon. I’ve got plenty of other people that I love a lot. They’re welcome in my house any day.”
South Carolina (24-10) will face No. 3 Baylor (27-7) in the Sweet 16 this Friday at 7:29 p.m. ET. The Bears survived USC, 82-78, on Sunday.
“I watch them here and there,” Martin said of Baylor. “I don’t watch them as much as I used to when I spent six years in the Big 12 coaching against them every year, but I watch them here and there. Scott Drew and I have become friends over the years, and we follow each other’s programs. They’re very good. They’re going to play that zone. Offensively, they’re very long and athletic.”