T.J. Moss’ first step hinted that the point guard wanted to push, but Frank Martin quickly alerted his freshman of the game situation. Less than 30 seconds remained in the first half and the South Carolina coach wanted one shot.
So Moss slowed the possession by dribbling and dribbling and dribbling beyond the top of the arc. Finally, by the third time Martin yelled at him to go, Moss found a teammate. Hassani Gravett didn’t have a clean look, so he hurried a pass to Maik Kotsar, a 6-foot-11 forward who forced — but buried — a line-drive 3-pointer at the buzzer. The USC players celebrated, while their coach stomped into the locker room.
The Gamecocks ended an inconsistent November with an 85-79 win over Coastal Carolina on Friday at Colonial Life Arena. They improved to 4-3 before entering a four-game stretch that includes two road trips and three ranked opponents. Tougher challengers are ahead, as are moments like the one described above.
“I just want to keep getting balder,” Martin said, allowing himself to laugh at how he’s trying to piece together success for this team.
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Friday’s game had a little bit of everything. There were spurts when the Gamecocks couldn’t miss from 3, there were spurts when they struggled to defend the 3. There were times when USC appeared ready to pull away, there were times when it allowed the Chanticleers to climb right back. And Carolina’s youngest player (A.J. Lawson) continued to look like the team’s best while its oldest (Chris Silva) continued to struggled.
Lawson, after going scoreless in Monday’s loss to Wofford, came back with a career-high 25 points. Gravett added a career-high 23.
“(Thursday) in practice, (Lawson) was being passive,” Martin said, “and I got after him a little bit. And for the last 30 minutes of practice, he was the best player on the court. And the way he played today, how aggressive he was offensively, defensively, how engaged he was.
“He responded. ... But freshmen are freshmen. You’re going to have moments like at the end of the first half where I want to job over the scorer’s table and hide.”
South Carolina led 50-41 at halftime before Coastal came out of intermission on an 18-6 run. The Gamecocks didn’t get their first second half bucket until Gravett flipped one in from outside the lane at the 13:53 left.
Over 10 minutes later, Gravett later drilled a 3-pointer that put the Gamecocks up 10, essentially sealing off the threat of a second-straight loss to an-state opponent.
CCU, which got 24 points from Zac Cuthbertson, dropped to 4-4.
Star of the game: Lawson showed he can shake off an off-game. The rookie was back to his typical aggressive self and the Gamecocks benefited. He took a game-high 15 free throws, making 11 of them.
“The only game he struggled was Wofford,” Gravett said. “People have down days sometimes. He defintiely came back and responded to the challenges that were asked of him. I think going forward, we can count on him to keep contributing. the way he is.”
Play of the game: Something that could happen quite a few times over the next few years: A Lawson to Keyshawn Bryant alley-oop in the first half that made CLA the loudest its been all season.
Stats of the game: The Gamecocks held Coastal Carolina scoreless over the final 3:37 of the first half. The Gamecocks were also out-rebounded by six.
The latter of these notes didn’t sit well with Martin.
“We’re a soft basketball team,” Martin said. “We don’t rebound and we don’t make competitive plays when the ball’s in the balance. ... When it comes to that, we’re a soft team right now. We’ve been out-rebounded, I want to say, five of our seven games. That’s never happened in my career. We gotta work on that.”
Lineup change: USC started three freshmen for the first time this season. With Justin Minaya out, Martin wanted a better mix of experience off the bench. Rookies Lawson, Bryant and Moss started while seniors and previous starters Gravett and Tre Campbell were in reserve roles.
Silva’s struggles: The All-SEC forward had another disappointing night. Early foul trouble led to limited action in the first half. In the second half, he tried for a lay-in after a lob and the attempt missed. Silva finished with nine points, five boards and six blocks. He’s only reached double figures in scoring twice in seven games this season.
“I think I’ve just been over-thinking and putting too much pressure on myself,” Silva said. “I’ve kind of forgotten how to enjoy the game. And Coach reminded me that and told me to go out there and just play as hard as I can and enjoy the game. That’s what I tried to do.”
Frink’s debut: USC freshman forward Alanzo Frink, previously slowed by a knee injury, made his college debut. It was short-lived as he picked up a couple fouls in nine first half minutes. He didn’t play in the final 20 minutes, finishing with no points and two rebounds.
Who: South Carolina at Wyoming
When: 9 p.m., Dec. 5
Where: Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming
|SOUTH CAROLINA 85, COASTAL CAROLINA 79|
COASTAL CAROLINA (4-4)
Bamba 3-11 1-1 7, Cuthbertson 8-15 5-7 24, Gumbs-Frater 2-7 2-3 6, Brown 1-8 3-4 5, Sanders 2-7 2-2 8, Hippolyte 0-0 0-0 0, Burton 3-6 4-4 10, Kralj 3-4 0-0 9, Pierce 3-6 1-2 10, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-64 18-23 79.
|SOUTH CAROLINA (4-3)|
Silva 4-9 1-2 9, Kotsar 2-4 2-2 7, Bryant 3-8 1-1 7, Lawson 6-10 11-15 25, Moss 1-8 1-2 4, Haase 1-6 4-4 7, Frink 0-2 0-0 0, Campbell 1-1 0-0 3, Gravett 7-10 5-7 23. Totals 25-58 25-33 85.
Halftime: South Carolina 50-41. 3-Point Goals: Coastal Carolina 11-23 (Kralj 3-3, Cuthbertson 3-4, Pierce 3-5, Sanders 2-3, Burton 0-1, Gumbs-Frater 0-2, Brown 0-5), South Carolina 10-26 (Gravett 4-7, Lawson 2-5, Campbell 1-1, Kotsar 1-1, Moss 1-5, Haase 1-6, Frink 0-1). Fouled Out: Pierce. Rebounds_Coastal Carolina 36 (Cuthbertson 12), South Carolina 32 (Kotsar 8). Assists: Coastal Carolina 12 (Sanders, Cuthbertson 3), South Carolina 13 (Gravett 4). Total Fouls: Coastal Carolina 24, South Carolina 17. A: 9,315 (18,000).