O, what a moment: Thompson’s late NCAA 3-pointer blows roof off Colonial Life Arena

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South Carolina basketball’s second round NCAA Tournament win ended with an unforgettable moment for one of its most beloved players.

Playing in what was likely her last game at Colonial Life Arena, the Columbia court she’s called home for four seasons with the rest of USC’s record-setting senior class, fan favorite Olivia Thompson came off the bench and sank a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left in Sunday’s win over South Florida.

Thompson’s three resembled the final points of 76-45 South Carolina win — one that sent reigning national champion USC to its ninth Sweet 16 in the past 10 seasons — and a whole lot more for a Lexington High School graduate who grew up dreaming of making plays like this for her hometown school.

Now she had one more.

No wonder she was still processing it in South Carolina’s locker room, some 20 minutes after her final home game 3-pointer sent Colonial Life Arena into one last frenzy.

“I’m very, very happy that I could go out in that way,” Thompson said. “I’m still trying to soak up the moment a little bit because once it happens, you’ve got to worry about the next play. After it happened, just taking in the energy from the crowd and my teammates, it was just awesome.”

Coach Dawn Staley described the moment as “fitting” for Thompson, who initially committed to South Carolina as a preferred walk-on, earned a scholarship ahead of her second season with the team and has developed into one of the program’s most vocal and valuable veterans.

“I mean, the crowd loves her,” Staley said. “She’s done a tremendous job for our team, being a great teammate, a voice in our locker room. It’s only fitting that she ends it (this way).”

Teammates Aliyah Boston and Kierra Fletcher also heaped postgame praise on Thompson, a 5-foot-8 guard who’s appeared in 78 career games as a Gamecock and was averaging 1.0 points and 4.0 minutes per game this season entering Sunday.

“Liv comes in every single day and she gives it her all,” Boston said. “So when she gets in, we know that she’s the best shooter. And so she just lets it fly. We just have a lot of energy because each day we come into practice, get in the gym, Liv gives us the same type of energy.”

“Liv is a tremendous, tremendous teammate,” Fletcher added. “Every time she steps on the floor, after she gets past half court I think it’s going to go in.”

Thompson, a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection, had a decorated prep career at Lexington High School. She was a three-time all-state pick and the school’s all-time leading scorer. She also the second most single-season 3-pointers (105) in South Carolina girls’ basketball history during the 2017-18 season.

But she’s accepted — and thrived — in a reserve role at South Carolina, winning a national championship in 2022 and developing such a following to the point where thousands of Colonial Life Arena fans audibly sigh when she touches the ball late in a game late and doesn’t shoot.

On Sunday, much to their joy, she did. And the circumstances — the fact it was the cherry on top of an initially testy game South Carolina led by only four points at halftime before winning by 31 points — made it that much sweeter.

Staley admitted she doesn’t know if that was it at CLA for “O,” who could technically return to South Carolina for a fifth year in 2023-24 due to a blanket year of eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She hasn’t said she’s coming back or not,” Staley said. “But if that’s the last memory of her playing on Colonial Life Arena’s floor, it’s one that she’ll live to tell generations of her family.”

— The State Jeremiah Holloway contributed to this story