USC Men's Basketball

5 things to watch: USC motivation to win exhibition basketball game is pretty simple

South Carolina on Wednesday will host Columbia International University in an exhibition game at Colonial Life Arena. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. By 9 p.m., USC coach Frank Martin is hopeful Gamecock fans are still excited about his 2019-20 team.

In other words, he hopes CIU doesn’t pull an Augusta.

“I’d like to win,” Martin said, “so contrary to last year people don’t freak out because we’re going to be a bad basketball team.”

Carolina was just fine in 2018-19 as it shook off a slow start to finish fourth in the SEC and earn a double-bye in the league tournament. Forecasting such success wasn’t all that easy in late October after the Gamecocks lost their exhibition game to a Division II team.

The Augusta Jaguars rallied back from a 12-point halftime deficit to shock South Carolina, 77-72, in Columbia.

Context — see the fact Martin didn’t use his timeouts nor play Chris Silva for the final 10 minutes — aside, the result was naturally enough for even the most loyal supporters to wonder about the potential of Martin’s team.

“I played crazy lineups, I didn’t coach to manage situations,” Martin said, “and we lost. And there were a whole lot of people ready to jump off that ship that night.”

A year later, Martin, 53, doesn’t feel like playing lifeguard.

“I’m too old to be jumping overboard to save people,” he said. “I just like to win so people don’t overreact to that.”

Augusta went on to win 28 games and advance to the third round of the D-II NCAA Tournament. CIU, a program in its seventh year of existence, plays in the lower-level NAIA. The Rams feature a roster with nine freshmen and eight transfers.

Chances for a second-straight monumental upset seem slim. Especially when the Gamecocks have been warned.

“I think it helps you realize that in college basketball you can’t just go out there and just play and expect things to happen and to win,” said redshirt sophomore wing Justin Minaya, who scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Augusta loss. “Whenever you’re going against another team, you’re going to have to bring it no matter who it is.

“So we can’t go in there cocky or anything. We got to stick to what we do and play our game. That’s what we learned most from that.”

Five things to watch

1. Who starts?

Martin said Monday he might be fighting this question through November. With so many options, he could try out different lineups for different matchups in the early going.

A guess at Wednesday’s first five: PG Jair Bolden, SG A.J. Lawson, SF Justin Minaya, PF Wildens Leveque, C Maik Kotsar

2. Pace

Last season’s South Carolina team was, statistically, the quickest of the Martin era. He’s already hinted that this team is faster. A bevy of trusted ball-handlers make transition opportunities all that more available.

3. Freshmen

Two years ago, Minaya debuted with 13 points and four rebounds in USC’s exhibition rout of Erskine. It led then-teammate Frank Booker to say of Minaya, “He rebounds better than any guard I think I’ve ever played with.”

Any foreshadowing performances coming from Carolina’s new rookies Leveque (as a shot blocker), Jalyn McCreary (rebounder), Trae Hannibal (defensive stopper) or Trey Anderson (shooter)?

4. New, old faces

Bolden and Jermaine Couisnard, sitting out for different reasons, spent last year as “Scout Team All-Americans” during South Carolina practices. Now both get to play for real.

Martin demands a lot of his point guards, and it appears Bolden will get the early bulk of those reps. Couisnard, a sixth man candidate, is a noted scorer at the two-guard spot.

5. Henry’s debut

Frank Booker, Wes Myers and Tre Campbell give the USC staff a decent track record at picking graduate transfers. Micaiah Henry is next, but he differs from the three one-year Gamecocks before him. They were guards. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Henry is learning a new system as a post player.

“It’s a little harder to comprehend when you don’t have the ball in your hands making decisions,” Martin said.

Game info

Who: Columbia International at South Carolina

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Colonial Life Arena

Watch: There is no TV or digital stream for this game

Admission: Free

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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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