USC Men's Basketball

Justin Minaya, big second half run spark Gamecocks to season-opening win

Frank Martin was probably directing it at an individual South Carolina player, but the message could have served any Gamecock on the floor.

USC came out slow to start the second half of its season opener against North Alabama. Sloppy play allowed the Lions to climb within a couple buckets and the Colonial Life Arena crowd had fallen eerily quiet.

“When are you going to wake up?” Martin shouted, a plea from a coach to his team.

The Gamecocks did. Eventually.

Backed by Justin Minaya’s impressive return from injury, South Carolina produced a burst of life that was plenty good enough to spark a 77-55 win over North Alabama on Wednesday.

Minaya matched a career-high for points (17) and set one for rebounds (11) as the Gamecocks went to 1-0 for the eighth time in Martin’s eight seasons on the sideline.

It just took a little while for the Gamecocks to put their coach at some form of peace. The uneven performance didn’t surprise Martin. Keyshawn Bryant’s injury plus illness going through the team led to inconsistent practices coming in.

“All of a sudden, we went from the exhibition game (last Wednesday) and our demeanor, our preparation just took a serious dip,” Martin said. “We have not been remotely close to the team we were for the first five weeks of practice.”

After a taking a 10-point halftime lead, North Alabama, starting its second season at the Division I level, cut things to 43-39 at the 15:35 mark of the final period. An 18-2 run over the next six minutes allowed for the necessary breathing room.

The sprint included USC’s first made 3-pointer of the night (by Jair Bolden), a layup and put-back from Minaya and a glimpse at Trae Hannibal’s potential. The freshman from Hartsville had a steal and explosive dunk to put Carolina ahead 18 and added another transition bucket to put it up 20.

Minaya, though, was the biggest story. His sophomore season cut short by knee injury, the redshirt sophomore shined in his first game since last November.

“I was real excited to come back out there and play the game I love,” Minaya said, “and just be there for my teammates and everything. I had a lot of emotions coming in before the game just realizing it was my first game back.

“But once the game started, it was just back to normal.”

The Gamecocks held the Lions to 24.6 percent shooting, but they also turned it over 20 times and missed 17 free throws.

“What I told our guys after the game was pretty simple,” Martin said. “Winning’s always better than the alternative. But your joy can’t come out of the score of the game. Your joy has to come out of your ability to perform beacause you prepared a certain way. And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Your joy can’t be on whether you win or lose.”

And one: While Minaya’s game marked a return, Jermaine Couisnard’s marked a debut. The redshirt freshman, who sat last year because of an academic issue, was instant offense, hitting a couple buckets within his first 30 seconds on the floor. The guard from East Chicago finished with nine points off the bench.

“I just went out and played the game,” Couisnard said. “Just went with the game plan.”

Personal foul: A.J. Lawson on Monday was named to the coach-voted preseason All-SEC team. The first game of his sophomore season wasn’t all that award-worthy, however. Lawson picked up two first half fouls and failed to get in much of an offensive rhythm. He took just four shots and finished with eight points, four assists and three turnovers.

‘He didn’t come in with the mindest that he needed to have today to deal with the aggression that the North Alabama guys we played with,” Martin said. “He’s an unbelievable kid. He’s unbelievably talented. I’m not worried about A.J., but he needs to learn from today.”

Tip-in: Ten Gamecocks logged at least 10 minutes, including half of the four-man freshman class. Jalyn McCreary fouled out after nine points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. Hannibal had five points and an assist in 13 minutes.

Wildens Leveque, who made headlines in the preseason for his athleticism, didn’t play because of a swollen right big toe, suffered during a recent practice. The rookie big man is expected back for Sunday’s game against Wyoming.

Next

Who: Wyoming at South Carolina

When: Noon, Sunday

Where: Colonial Life Arena

Watch: SEC Network

Box score

SOUTH CAROLINA 77, NORTH ALABAMA 55

NORTH ALABAMA (0-1)

Youngblood 0-5 6-7 6, James 1-6 0-0 2, Littles 2-4 4-5 8, Brim 2-7 7-9 12, Blackmon 2-12 1-2 6, J.Anderson 2-7 0-0 4, Diggs 3-6 0-0 6, Windeler 0-2 2-2 2, King 0-2 0-0 0, Agnew 3-10 3-8 9. Totals 15-61 23-33 55.

SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0)

Kotsar 2-7 2-4 6, Frink 3-3 0-3 6, Minaya 7-10 3-4 17, Bolden 5-9 3-4 14, Lawson 1-4 6-7 8, Nelson 0-2 0-0 0, T.Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, McCreary 4-5 1-7 9, Henry 0-1 0-1 0, Couisnard 3-6 2-2 9, Hannibal 2-5 1-2 5, Moss 1-5 1-2 3. Totals 28-57 19-36 77

.Halftime_South Carolina 37-27. 3-Point Goals_North Alabama 2-21 (Brim 1-5, Blackmon 1-9, J.Anderson 0-1, Windeler 0-1, Agnew 0-2, Youngblood 0-3), South Carolina 2-9 (Couisnard 1-2, Bolden 1-3, Hannibal 0-1, Moss 0-1, Minaya 0-1, Lawson 0-1). Fouled Out_Frink, McCreary, James, J.Anderson. Rebounds_North Alabama 35 (Diggs, Littles 7), South Carolina 36 (Minaya 11). Assists_North Alabama 7 (Brim, Blackmon 2), South Carolina 13 (Lawson 4). Total Fouls_North Alabama 30, South Carolina 27. A_11,927 (18,000).

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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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