Here are four things we learned from South Carolina’s 81-61 loss to Wofford on Monday:
1. Long-term effects of Justin Minaya’s injury could be damning
After one of the more impressive wins of his career, Wofford coach Mike Young opened his post-game press conference with a nod to who was missing for the Gamecocks.
“Those things hurt, fellas,” Young said. “You have a kid like Minaya go down. I hope like crazy the Gamecocks can get him back quickly. He’s very good, he’s a glue guy. He guards.”
Minaya’s value goes beyond a stat sheet. The 6-foot-5 sophomore emerged as Frank Martin’s most trusted perimeter defender last season. This year, Martin said, he’s emerged as the leader of USC’s team.
“He’s the guy that has the most discipline, the most toughness, the most enthusiasm and is the most excited about coming in here every day and getting better,” Martin said. “He’s becoming the leader of this team. And when you lose that spirit from the game ...”
Martin continued by mentioning what Minaya’s absence did to the Carolina rotation. Senior guard Hassani Gravett started in Minaya’s place, meaning a couple freshmen — Keyshawn Bryant and T.J. Moss — were the first two guards off the bench. That’s not what Martin wants, but he might have no choice going forward. (Though Moss started for senior Tre Campbell in Monday’s second half.)
And how long is forward? South Carolina announced Tuesday that Minaya will undergo surgery on his right knee later this week. He remains out “indefinitely,” but will begin rehab soon and should return during the SEC season.
Since the beginning of last season, the Gamecocks are now 0-2 without Minaya. Teams are averaging 81 points and shooting 49.5 percent in his absence.
“Justin’s going to have to keep figuring out a way to keep leading those young kids,” Martin said. “So as we go through growth, we get better and better so we can be prepared for conference play.”
2. Chris Silva’s inconsistency is defining USC’s season
It’s pretty simple for the Gamecocks in 2018-19: When Chris Silva commits three or fewer fouls, Carolina is 3-0. When Silva is whistled for four or more, Carolina is 0-3.
On a night when depth was a concern and staying on the floor was paramount, Silva managed 21 minutes. He scored eight points, grabbed five rebounds, had four turnovers and four fouls.
The senior forward was a preseason first-team All-SEC pick. Through six games, he’s averaging 10.3 points and 5.8 rebounds. The other four players to make the SEC’s preseason first-team were Daniel Gafford (Arkansas), Reid Travis (Kentucky), Grant Williams (Tennessee) and Tremont Waters (LSU). Following are their numbers so far:
Gafford: 19.2 points per game, 8.0 rebounds
Travis: 13.7, 6.2
Williams: 21.6, 8.4
Waters: 11.3, 6.3 assists per game
Martin said Monday that Silva and Maik Kotsar, Silva’s veteran frontcourt mate, have forgotten how to run parts of the offense.
“Our big guys do not score the ball in the paint,” Martin said. “Call plays for them and they don’t even know what plays they’re supposed to run. That’s not on them. That’s on me. It’s my job to make sure guys do what they’re supposed to do.
“Where it gets a little frustrating for me is when you call plays that have been called the same thing and the same action for three or four years, you would think the guys who have the most starts in our program would understand what those plays are by now.”
3. Keyshawn Bryant up, A.J. Lawson down
When A.J. Lawson was on the floor Monday, the Gamecocks were outscored by 26 points. When Keyshawn Bryant was on the floor, the Gamecocks outscored Wofford by 12.
Lawson, after earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors, was a marked man against the Terriers. Carolina’s leading scorer was held scoreless.
“I really like Lawson,” said Wofford coach Mike Young. “I really like him. We just wanted to keep somebody in front of him and play without fouling and keep it congested as best we can.”
A good bit of Lawson’s best plays this season have come in the open floor. The Terriers wanted to limit USC’s transition opportunities. Mission accomplished as the Gamecocks managed just six fast break points.
Bryant, Lawson’s classmate, felt like the only Gamecock to find success in transition. Twice, the electric 6-6, 190-pounder grabbed a defensive rebound and scored on the other end without passing. Bryant was limited to 17 minutes because of headache concerns. He wore protective glasses.
4. Wofford is legitimate
Did we learn this? Or was it just confirmed Monday?
The Terriers play in the Southern Conference, but seemingly spend the majority of their non-conference slate against major competition. They beat Georgia Tech and North Carolina last season en route to a 21-13 record. This year, they’ve hosted UNC (lost by 11), gone to Oklahoma (lost by 11), had a trip to Stanford canceled, beat the Gamecocks by 20 and have upcoming dates with Kansas and Mississippi State.
“They’re real good,” Martin said. “They’re an NCAA (Tournament)-caliber team. If you play in the NCAA Tournament, those are the teams you play.”