Marquette Wire

GOODS: Greenville location gave South Carolina unearned advantage

Katin+Reinhardt+shoots+in+front+of+a+red-heavy+crowd+in+Greenville%2C+South+Carolina.
Katin Reinhardt shoots in front of a red-heavy crowd in Greenville, South Carolina.

Katin Reinhardt shoots in front of a red-heavy crowd in Greenville, South Carolina.

Photo by Maggie Bean/Marquette Athletics

Photo by Maggie Bean/Marquette Athletics

Katin Reinhardt shoots in front of a red-heavy crowd in Greenville, South Carolina.

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When the euphoria of Marquette’s announcement in the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament wore off, the reality sunk in.

Wait, Marquette has to play South Carolina in South Carolina?

Fans tried bargaining with themselves. I was sure some Marquette supporters will travel, and maybe the Duke fans leftover from the prior game will stick around to cheer on Marquette head coach and former Duke guard Steve Wojciechowski.

That wasn’t the case. The crowd was electric and booming, and it gave South Carolina an unfair advantage from the start. The absurdity of the decision intensified for South Carolina’s second-round game, where the Gamecocks held a home court advantage against the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils. TNT commentator Chris Webber said during the broadcast that the crowd was about 90 percent red for that game.

“That’s just the way the NCAA Tournament goes sometimes,” Wojciechowski said stoically when he met with the media following the Selection Sunday special.

But really, it isn’t. Playing in your home state is typically an advantage a team earns by locking up a high seed in the field. Only two other times since 2010 has a team worse than a six seed played in its home state — 11th-seeded Dayton in 2015 and 12th-seeded California in 2013. Dayton was also a unique case, as the Flyers were in the last four in that season.

Marquette was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, turning it over 18 times despite averaging 12 turnovers a game. Twelve of the Golden Eagles’ turnovers Friday came in the second half when the crowd volume was augmented. When South Carolina started a run, it was difficult to stop when each turnover and dunk raised the noise more.

“It was just like a regular BIG EAST road game for us at Villanova,” Duane Wilson said after Marquette’s loss. “We fought hard, but I think they fed off their fans at times.”

“It helped the momentum when PJ (Dozier) got those couple fast break dunks, and the atmosphere went crazy,” South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell said. “It just gave us the confidence we needed to get over the edge and push through the final minutes of the game.”

The advantage has led to success, as all three of the teams below a six seed that played their first round game in their home state since 2010 won. Sunday night, a 10-loss South Carolina team, which ended the regular season by losing five of its last seven games, beat a Duke team which easily could have been a one seed.

“It’s just a blessing to be able to play in front of our fans,” Dozier said.

You can say that again.

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