USC Men's Basketball

He scores, passes and rebounds, but here’s why Frank Martin really enjoys AJ Lawson

Frank Martin after the Gamecocks’ bounce-back win: ‘They needed something good’

South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin recaps his team's victory over Norfolk State on Tuesday, explaining how the Gamecocks got off to a good start and bounced back after USC's first defeat of the season.
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South Carolina men's basketball coach Frank Martin recaps his team's victory over Norfolk State on Tuesday, explaining how the Gamecocks got off to a good start and bounced back after USC's first defeat of the season.

At halftime of South Carolina’s win over Norfolk State on Tuesday, A.J. Lawson was 2 of 7 from the floor and Frank Martin knew exactly was what plaguing his freshman’s shooting touch.

“He’s got a bad habit where he’ll stick his right elbow out when he shoots,” said USC’s coach. “And any time he sticks his right elbow out, all you got to do is look at the ball. You see the rotation, it changes.”

There was side-spin to Lawson’s early jumpers, causing the following intermission exchange between coach and player.

Martin: “A.J., get your elbow under the ball and get your left hand out of the shot.”

Lawson: (Nods)

Lawson scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half as the Gamecocks rolled to an 81-64 victory.

“He went out in the second half and the ball went in for him,” Martin said.

Lawson, the gem of Carolina’s ‘18 recruiting class, has lived up to the hype through three games. The Canadian and former four-star prospect leads the Gamecocks (2-1) in points (16.7 per game) and assists (5.0).

His 23 points against Stony Brook were the most by a USC rookie since Sindarius Thornwell in 2014. His eight assists against Norfolk State topped a 2016 USC rookie performance by P.J. Dozier. His six rebounds Tuesday led the team.

“He’s got a confidence about him when he’s on the go,” Martin said of the 6-foot-6, 172-pounder. “He sees passes because of his size.

“I think I told you guys I should have been playing him at the point more since the first day (of practice). We’ve been playing him a lot at the point because he’s got imagination as to what’s there.”

South Carolina basketball players Hassani Gravett and Maik Kotsar and coach Frank Martin talk about how the Gamecocks watched the famous video of the New Zealand "All Blacks" haka dance to teach unity after a disappointing loss.

Senior Hassani Gravett, who just missed a career-high with 18 points, nailed five of six 3s Tuesday. He benefited from Lawson’s deep drives into NSU’s zones.

“He’s a great player,” Gravett said. “That’s why he was able to re-class and come up to the collegiate level so quick because he has that talent and ability. He’s a great player for us.

“He’s good at attacking the zone and just the rim in general. He’s athletic, long. He’s definitely a great player and addition to our team.”

What Martin likes best about Lawson is his willingness to listen. Tuesday’s second half provided proof.

“He wants you to coach him,” Martin said. “ ... He’s fun to coach. Great, great demeanor.”

Lawson makes freshman mistakes, too

Lawson leads the Gamecocks in another category — turnovers. The rookie had five more Tuesday, giving him 12 on the season.

But such mistakes are ones Martin can live with. For now, anyway. They’re “freshman turnovers.”

“(Some are) casual,” Martin said, “when you get a little laid-back and now you fumble the ball or whatever. And then strength. Sometimes he drives and there’s a bump, and he’s not strong enough to deal with the bump and deal with the play.

“But that’ll come with him. He works at it.”

The last Carolina freshman Martin featured in a league-guard role was Dozier. Dozier, now a member of the Boston Celtics organization, had 20 more turnovers (90) than assists (70) in 2015-16. Lawson has 15 assists to those 12 turnovers through three games.

The Gamecocks have an extra body in the mix — and one on the way

T.J. Moss, after missing the first two games because of a foot injury, made his college debut Tuesday. The reserve point guard scored three points in 10 minutes.

The freshman’s mere presence expanded Martin’s rotation to nine.

“T.J.’s a good player,” Martin said. “T.J.’s got a real good mind for the game. He really understands how to play. He’s another capable 3-point shooter.

“When you’re battling a foot (injury), it’s hard to shoot balls with a boot on your foot. It’s hard to get repetitions. He’s going to have good days and bad days right now with that foot. It’s a weird injury. It’s not a stress fracture. It’s a different deal on the side of his foot.

“We just got to manage it until it quiets down and goes away.”

Moss, a 6-foot-2 Memphis native, made headlines over the summer when he hit eight 3-pointers and scored 37 points in an SC Pro-Am game.

Alanzo Frink, a 2018 recruiting classmate of Moss and Lawson, continues to make progress from a knee injury suffered early in the preseason. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound forward will travel to Connecticut for this weekend’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament, but likely won’t play, Martin said.

“He’s close,” Martin said. “He’s really, really close. It’s all a strength thing. Your leg has to be at 85 strength compared to the other thing. He’s really close to that percentage. ... As long as he gets cleared for practice, then we’re a couple days away from playing him in a game.”

After this weekend’s games against Providence and Michigan or George Washington, the Gamecocks return home to play Wofford on Nov. 26.

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