South Carolina rolls on without leading scorer, rebounder
FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2016, file photo, South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell cheers on his teammates from the bench during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida International in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina will be hard pressed to keep up its undefeated start, facing two difficult tasks on the road without suspended leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford, File)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina will have to keep its undefeated run going without suspended leading scorer and rebounder Sindarius Thornwell, at least for a while.
The 6-foot-5 senior has been benched since last Sunday when the school announced he'd been suspended indefinitely for violating athletic department policy.
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin said on Friday that Thornwell made a ''mental mistake'' and believed he would return to the team this season.
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It appears he won't be in the lineup next week ahead when the 19th-ranked Gamecocks (8-0) face Seton Hall (7-2) at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, then travel to South Florida on Dec. 17.
Thornwell has practiced with the team and will travel to games until his suspension is lifted.
''It's an adjustment, for sure,'' sophomore PJ Dozier said . ''But at the end of the day, we've got to come out and compete. These games continue to go on.''
Thornwell played a major role in South Carolina's impressive start this season, which has included victories over then 25th-ranked Michigan on Nov. 23 and against then-No. 18 Syracuse three days later.
Thornwell tops the Gamecocks with 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. He also leads the team in assists, three-point shooting and foul shooting.
Martin would not go into detail about what Thornwell did wrong or when he might return.
''If I knew when he was coming back I wouldn't have released the statement'' about Thornwell's indefinite suspension, Martin said.
''At the end of the day, we all fall under one umbrella, which is the University of South Carolina,'' Martin said. ''We all have to conduct and act and follow the laws and the rules that have been created by this institution. And when they're not, you don't play favorites because somebody's a good player and somebody's a lesser player.''
One thing Martin is sure of – the rest of his roster will have to step up against Seton Hall and South Florida to mitigate the absent Thornwell.
''Not one guy is going to step in and be Sindarius,'' Martin said. ''They all collectively have to grab an extra rebound each, have to come up with an extra assist each, have to figure out a way to all of them score one more basket each than what they've been doing.''
Where Thornwell might be missed most is in South Carolina's defensive scheme. He led the team in steals last season and was picked for the all-Southeastern Conference defensive team.
Martin had Thornwell glued to the opponent's best perimeter scorer, a chaser's role the senior from Lancaster had taken great pride in the past two seasons.
Now, Martin will look to Dozier, a 6-6 point guard who was the SEC's player of the week last week as he averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.5 steals in wins over Vermont and Florida International.
Dozier, a McDonald's All-American in high school, struggled with some defensive concepts as a freshman, often getting benched after picking up too many hand-check fouls instead of keeping in front of his man.
Martin said that's changed this season as Dozier has worked to elevate his defensive play. He leads the Gamecocks with 19 steals this season.
''He's starting to kind of spread his wings of late,'' Martin said of Dozier's play.
A bulk of responsibility will also fall to senior guard Duane Notice, last year's SEC sixth man of the year who has started all eight games this season and is third in scoring at 11.5 points a game behind Thornwell and Dozier.
Thornwell is understandably disappointed with his mistake, Martin said. He's kept up a leadership role of encouraging players and taking charge at practice when things break down.
''He's not going to allow his spirit to be broken. His teammates are not going to allow his spirit to be broken,'' Martin said.
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