Photo: File Photo: Sarah Stone / The Daily Gamecock

Felder comes up big in Gamecocks' upset win over Duke

Freshman point guard Rakym Felder doesn't often take time to second-guess himself. For better or worse, when he makes up his mind, it's a done deal. 

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said that Felder committed to the Gamecocks after a single phone call. 

"I needed a New York City point guard," said Martin. "That's why I went and found Rakym. We're lucky he has family in our state. This was his dream school. Recruiting him might be the easiest recruiting job I've ever been a part of, the easiest."

Felder is known for his signature step-back 3-point shots, especially ones that often seem unnecessarily deep. He is usually good for one of these per game, even when they don't make sense in the context of the game, or if the percentages would classify the shot as a poor selection. 

In South Carolina's upset NCAA Tournament victory over Duke Sunday, the Gamecocks were finally having success working the ball into the paint midway through the second half. They took a 49-48 lead over the Blue Devils after scoring just six paint points in the first half. 

Then Felder got that look in his eyes. 

Felder held on to this one just an extra second longer than he usually does - just enough time for South Carolina's local media to let out a collective groan from the press rows. 

For Felder this shot could end one of two ways. He could make it, or he could miss. In that case, Martin will be waiting for him, or more likely restraining himself from running out on the court to get Felder. 

"He gets a little immature on us sometimes, but he's a freshman," Martin said. "Heck, when I was 18, I wouldn't be able to handle the moment the way he does, so a lot of credit to him."

Felder's career at South Carolina got off to an inauspicious start. He was arrested for assault and resisting arrest before his first collegiate game. 

With the help of his coaching staff and the veteran players on the roster, Felder has developed into a critical part of the Gamecocks' rotation. He leads South Carolina in 3-point percentage, shooting 43.8 percent from the field. 

"He's like a little brother to Sindarius [Thornwell] and PJ [Dozier]," said Martin. "You learn a lot about your freshmen the way your seniors helped them. Our seniors go out of their way to help him."

Like his pupil, Thornwell also overcame an early suspension, going on to be named the SEC Player of the Year in his senior season. 

"He's big," said Thornwell. "He has the heart of a giant. He doesn't care who we're playing. He doesn't care how big the guy is, whatever the guy, the athlete." 

"He's very confident," said senior guard Duane Notice. "He's electric. It's kind of radiating through the team. When he's confident we're all confident."

With less than four minutes remaining, Dozier fouled out of the game as Duke threatened to make one final run. 

Felder assumed the job of running South Carolina's offense down the stretch and helped the Gamecocks secure an 88-81 victory over Duke to advance to the Sweet 16. 

"He's been a spark off the bench for us all year," Martin said. "We've won games because he comes in there and he's aggressive and, like the guys said, he's fearless of the moment. He loves the big stage."

Felder made seven free-throw shots after Dozier's departure. He finished with 15 points. 

Felder and the Gamecocks will play Baylor next in their tournament, with their matchup scheduled for March 24. 

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