USC Men's Basketball

South Carolina ‘anticipates’ return of star freshman guard for SEC Tournament

The first bit of news South Carolina’s produced at the SEC Tournament is good news.

Frank Martin told reporters Thursday night that he anticipates A.J. Lawson returning to the floor Friday afternoon when the Gamecocks face Auburn in a quarterfinal game at Bridgestone Arena. Tip-off is approximately 3:30 p.m. The game will air on ESPN.

“The anticipation is that he will play,” Martin said.

Lawson, who was named to the All-SEC freshman team Tuesday, missed USC’s previous three games after spraining his left ankle late in the Alabama loss on Feb. 26. He returned to practice this week, including a Thursday morning session in Nashville. Lawson’s playing status will be confirmed, Martin said, after a Thursday night session.

The Gamecocks (16-15, 11-7) went 2-1 without Lawson and still managed to earn the No. 4 seed and a double bye for the league tournament. The 6-foot-6 guard is second on the team in scoring and leads it in assists and steals.

Hassani Gravett, the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year, has replaced the injured Lawson in the starting lineup. That will remain that way Friday, should Lawson be available or not.

“I’m going to stick with the five guys who have been starting the last couple games,” Martin said of Gravett, Tre Campbell, Keyshawn Bryant, Felipe Haase and Chris Silva. “If A.J. had had two, three, four full practices under him, I’d probably go back to where we were before. But with all the unknown ... if (Lawson) was an older player that understood how to play after an injury or dealing with an injury — let’s not say after an injury — that’s a different dynamic. Being the first time he’s ever hurt himself in any way, we’re bringing him off the bench and will manage the game accordingly.”

USC is seeking a trip to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2006.

Standing in its way is a guard-dominated, pressing Auburn bunch that could potentially wear down the thin Gamecocks. With Lawson, USC has available eight scholarship players.

“If A.J.’s available and he can give us a solid number of minutes,” Martin said, “and I feel he’s in a comfortable place in the flow of the game, then we’ll just manage that accordingly. But for some reason, even if he is available, he’s just not very aggressive out there ... and we gotta kind of limit ourselves to Hassani and Tre playing 36 minutes each, then we gotta figure that one out.”

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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