Here’s the good news from South Carolina’s loss to Augusta on Friday night: That’s how the reigning SEC champions began last season.
Yes, Auburn, on its way to a 26-7 record and NCAA Tournament appearance, fell to Division II’s Barry University in an exhibition game.
The Jaguars play on the same level. And opportunities such as Friday’s — whether the contest counts on the record or not — might as well be on a Final Four stage for them.
All that being said, Martin entered 6-0 with the Gamecocks against D-II foes in the preseason. Average score of those matchups? Carolina 85, Opponent 60.
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Here’s what we learned from a unique night in Colonial Life Arena:
Silva reverted to last season’s form (the bad parts)
Chris Silva had a breakout year in 2017-18, but the All-SEC campaign still had its deficiencies. He committed 24 more fouls than the next Gamecock player. He also led the Gamecocks in turnovers.
Silva didn’t play the final 10:19 Friday after committing his fourth foul. Two of the whistles came while defending 30-some feet from the basket.
“Chris is too old for me to be sending messages,” Martin said when asked why he chose to sit the senior forward down the stretch. “If he’s going to start doing this nonsense of fouling every, like, non-aggressive play he can possibly figure out to foul, then we need to learn how to play without him in a close game.”
Silva was only charged with one turnover, but, after a preseason of Martin preaching to him about avoiding “fist-fights” near the rim, the 6-foot-9, 223-pounder tried often to force his way through double teams. It was a clear flashback to last year when he was first adapting to life as USC’s No. 1 offensive option.
Martin said had he been coaching more to win, he would have ran plays to get Augusta’s defensive focus off Silva.
“But I didn’t,” Martin said. “They gotta learn how to play. You gotta learn how to keep going. Where I’m disappointed is they doubled him when he first touched the ball. They doubled him the third time he touched the ball.
“Yet the fourth and fifth time he touched it, he was still surprised he was getting doubled. That’s not good from a senior.”
Kotsar was also stuck in a previous form
Maik Kotsar, the other starter still on the roster from USC’s 2017 Final Four run, appeared to still be in his sophomore slump. Kotsar said in July his career has “a ways to go” after a 2017-18 season that produced poor shooting numbers.
On Friday, the 6-foot-11 junior had four points, going 2-of-6 from the field. He missed a layup with 3:06 to go that would have given the Gamecocks a 68-67 lead. With 52 seconds left, he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 as USC tried to extend a 1-point advantage.
“Maik’s had a great preseason,” Martin said. “Not a good, but a great preseason. And today he played like the Maik we’ve all seen and loved last year.
“He’s gotta find confidence and do it in a game. But then again, it gets back to what I’m telling you. We saw him against another team. Maybe what I’m seeing on film and what I’m seeing in practice maybe is more of a reflection on our lack of defending than it is Maik doing things the right way.”
Mixed results for newcomers
Martin’s starting lineup was a bit surprising. Silva, Justin Minaya and Tre Campbell were in there as expected, but curveballs came with Felipe Haase and A.J. Lawson.
Of the three freshmen to play, Lawson looked the most comfortable. A good blend of skill and athleticism was on display from his long 6-6 frame. Six of his 12 points came from 3s while he also got to the free throw line seven times (but only made a pair).
The four-star recruit’s not afraid to attack the rim. Nor is he hesitant to chuck it from deep.
Lawson’s USC debut was only overshadowed by Campbell’s. The graduate transfer point guard from Georgetown scored 13 points and handed out three assists before leaving early in the second half with a minor ankle injury.
“I’m not worried about him,” Martin said. “I’m extremely happy with Tre.”
Rookie point guard T.J. Moss was the first Gamecock off the bench. He finished with more turnovers (two) than points (zero) and got beat a handful of times defensively. Freshman forward Keyshawn Bryant had a highlight-reel block in the first half, but finished with two points in 10 minutes.
“The freshmen didn’t have a real good week of practice,” Martin said.