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The Greatest Weekend Of Basketball In South Carolina History Is This One

What a weekend for the Palmetto State

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Murray State v Marquette
HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT - MARCH 21: Ja Morant #12 of the Murray State Racers dunks the ball during the second half of the first round game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against the Marquette Golden Eagles at XL Center on March 21, 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut. Murray State defeated Marquette 83-64.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

For decades, South Carolina’s basketball tradition has been dwarfed by what we see in North Carolina.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Frank McGuire built USC into a major power, but NC State won a national championship and the ACC rose after the Gamecocks disastrous departure: Tom Burleson, David Thompson, Phil Ford, Rod Griffin, James Worthy, Brad Daugherty, Michael Freakin’ Jordan.

And that was before Duke got seriously cranked up.

Not that South Carolina’s tradition was pathetic or anything, but Clemson was the best team most years and South Carolina was just hit and miss. The NIT was a typical high point.

The high school talent was always there and has always rivaled that of the Old North State: Ray Allen, Jermaine O’ Neal, Kevin Garnett, Trevor Booker, Jayson Williams, to name a few.

The list goes on and on.

But basketball as a celebration in South Carolina? You could argue the 1971 ACC championship, when 6-3 Kevin Joyce out-jumped Lee Dedmon, who was 6-10, and got the ball to Tom Owens, alone in the lane, as time expired.

Talk about a dramatic win. But that was still an almost entirely segregated team and we’re guessing that it wasn’t as fully embraced by African-Americans as a later team might have been.

There hasn’t been much since then although South Carolina beat Duke on the way to the Final Four a couple of years ago.

But an overall, statewide celebration of the game in South Carolina?

That had to wait until this week. When you add it up, it’s already the greatest weekend in the history of South Carolina hoops and it’s just turned Friday.

First on Thursday, Dalzell’s (population 2,260) Ja Morant took the national stage and and blew people away with a stunning triple double against Marquette. He made such a deep impression that many people began to question whether he might get taken ahead of Zion Williamson, who almost everyone expects to go first now.

Later that evening, Wofford, with a student body of about 1,700, took a good Seton Hall team apart down the stretch behind a brilliant performance by Fletcher Magee, winning 84-68 as he broke the NCAA career record for three pointers with 509.

And it wasn’t just that Wofford has one good player. That’s a damn good team. Damn good. Plus they have great names: Fletcher Magee...Storm Murphy...Messiah Jones....Donovan Theme-Love. And Jones isn’t even the Messiah here! He’s named Fletcher!

Thursday was so extraordinary that it threatens to overshadow South Carolina’s other great cause for celebration: the homecoming of native son Williamson, as the kid from Spartanburg is playing in Columbia tomorrow and could put on another big show.

Given his sense of showmanship, his physical and intellectual gifts for the game - and at its highest level basketball is very much a mental game, chess on steroids with immense physical effort - we expect he will have a big game Friday.

And if he does, we think that you can officially say that this was the biggest, most important week of basketball in the history of the Palmetto State.

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