USC Men's Basketball

What we learned from USC’s exhibition win ... and the Gamecocks’ plan without Bryant

A year after losing its exhibition game, South Carolina had its largest margin of victory of any exhibition game of the eight-year Frank Martin era.

Here are some takeaways from USC’s 87-50 rout of Columbia International on Wednesday:

Martin can’t catch a break

After revealing the injury news about Keyshawn Bryant, Martin added, “It’s just another basketball season at South Carolina. I don’t know why this school makes it so difficult to allow us to play with our whole team. But it’s in the water, I guess.”

Bryant, because of a knee cartilage issue, could be out up to six weeks. This means South Carolina will be down its most athletic player — and a 26-game starter from a year ago — for the majority of the non-conference season.

As Martin alluded to, the news adds to the Gamecocks’ recent history of being snake-bitten. USC last season had eight players miss a combined 126 games due to injury, football responsibility or an eligibility issue. But those Gamecocks still managed a fourth place finish in SEC. Martin has proven he can work around obstacles.

What goes away with Bryant’s absence is the potential of a small (but fun) lineup that included the Florida native and Justin Minaya at the wing spots, A.J. Lawson and Jair Bolden in the backcourt and Maik Kotsar at center. Such a look would be a terror in transition.

Martin, though, has time to experiment. South Carolina, which started Bolden, Lawson, Minaya, Kotsar and Alanzo Frink on Wednesday, doesn’t play again until next Wednesday’s season opener against North Alabama. The list of early opponents isn’t overly daunting. Bryant could miss 10 games, but only three — Wichita State (62), West Virginia (59), Houston (29) — are against teams ranked among Ken Pomeroy’s preseason top 100.

Frink scored nine points and had eight rebounds Wednesday. Freshman Jalyn McCreary, who also played the “four” or power forward spot, had 15 points, three boards and three assists off the bench. The Gamecocks won the fast break points battle, 27-0.

“I told them before the game, ‘Whoever I start today doesn’t mean that’s the way I’m thinking,’” Martin said. “I’m just trying to figure out who I play together and who plays better and where, and things like that.”

McCreary’s energy is noticeable

Martin’s first public comments about McCreary included a comparison to Bryant.

“Jalyn is a 6-8 athletic, aggressive forward, who is freakishly athletic,” Martin said in a June news conference. “In the open court, he is a finisher from the mid-range and he is a dunking highlight reel, a lot like Keyshawn Bryant.”

McCreary, a three-star prospect from Georgia who played his last year of high school ball in Greenville, was the highest ranked member (No. 135 by Rivals) of USC’s 2019 recruiting class for a reason. Signs of it popped up Wednesday.

McCreary’s motor ran for pretty much all of his 17 minutes on the floor. A Bryant-like finish off a Jair Bolden lob was the highlight, but a second half steal and lob of his own to A.J. Lawson was what stuck with Martin.

“He’s got instincts and he’s got the willingness to go make a play,” Martin said. “He’s got courage. With him, it’s just a matter of me continuing to understand the things he’s good at so I can help him better. And with him, an understanding of the things we’re trying to do.”

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Mixed results for new players

Martin wouldn’t name names Monday, but it wasn’t hard to figure out the players he was lowering early expectations for after a month of practice. He was most concerned with the newest Gamecocks, transfer included.

All four scholarship freshmen touched the floor by the end of the first half. McCreary was most impressive, followed by fellow big man Wildens Leveque, who had four points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 14 minutes.

“(McCreay) and Wildens, I thought, were really active,” Martin said.

Expect those two to remain in the mix with Frink at the “four.” Micaiah Henry, another candidate for that spot, looks behind. The Tennessee Tech grad transfer was the last of that group to check in. He scored two points, had two rebounds and missed six of eight fee throws over 12 minutes.

Rookies Trey Anderson and Trae Hannibal were two of three Gamecocks to not score Wednesday. Hannibal, a Hartsville star, appears to be behind Bolden, Lawson and T.J. Moss for point guard minutes. He exited with cramps late in the second half. Anderson, a wing from California, had three rebounds and three steals in 13 minutes.

NEXT

Who: North Alabama at South Carolina

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 6)

Where: Colonial Life Arena

TV: SEC Network-plus

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