COLUMBIA — “Revenge” is a tired cliché. Yes, the Wyoming loss more than any other dragged South Carolina’s 2018-19 season into the abyss, but it’s not like winning Sunday would have reversed that.
The Gamecocks played like it would have.
Unleashing a savage defense spearheaded by guard Justin Minaya, USC walloped Wyoming 66-32. It was the least amount of points the Gamecocks have allowed in 14 years and the lowest number of field goals they’ve allowed under Frank Martin (nine).
“I think I played pretty good on defense, I think we all did,” Minaya said. “Everybody was talking, communicating on the screens.”
Minaya only scored three points but had four rebounds and three assists while shadowing Cowboys guard Hunter Maldonado. Maldonado had 32 points in his season-opener but was held to 10 by Minaya.
“I just thought Frank did it from a complete standpoint,” said Wyoming coach Allen Edwards, who played JV basketball for Martin at Miami Senior High. “We’re not facing South Carolina every night. There were some big dudes down there.”
Star A.J. Lawson, challenged by Martin to be more locked in, began the spurt with eight points in his first eight minutes and his teammates followed, launching 3-pointers like they had get-out-of-practice-free tickets attached to them.
Lawson finished with 12 points, which was matched by Jermaine Couisnard. Jair Bolden had 11 and Alanzo Frink 10.
“Last year’s game was on our mind, because we lost last year and we had that on our shoulders,” Lawson said. “We wanted to come out with high energy and that helped us win today.”
Let it fly
The Gamecocks don’t want to define themselves as a 3-point shooting team, but they want to be able to hit them if they need to. They started out hot with five makes in their first eight tries, and while they only finished with four makes in the next 19, the cushion matched with the defense was more than enough for the win.
“We’re still very vanilla, for lack of better words. I don’t like complicating things early too much, because then you leave people behind,” Martin said. “We’re further ahead than where I thought we would be offensively.”
Frink continued his impressive start with 10 points and seven rebounds, blocking a shot with one steal. Couisnard continues to play like he’s trying to cram the season he missed last year into every next game, aggressively attacking the basket.
The defense was a Martin specialty, USC holding Wyoming to 23 percent shooting. The Cowboys only had eight rebounds in the entire first half and the Gamecocks won that total 41-21.
Some over-zealous whistles waived three made USC 3-pointers due to other Gamecocks clearing out the lane for potential rebounds. Frink picked up four fouls in 21 minutes while Maik Kotsar’s strong start was held to two points and three rebounds after three fouls.
The Gamecocks made more free throws than they missed but were a mere 7-of-12 from the stripe.
The Gamecocks host Cleveland State Friday. It’s the third of five straight home games.