COLUMBIA — Frank Martin mentioned Monday that Maik Kotsar was napping his last few games.
He woke up.
South Carolina’s senior forward reclaimed his stellar final year with a double-double on Saturday as he led the Gamecocks past Missouri 76-54. Kotsar played well in a win at Arkansas on Wednesday, scoring 10 with nine rebounds before fouling out, but against the Tigers, with most everyone else either banged up or not hitting shots, he was fed early and never quit eating.
Kotsar hit three baby hooks to start and showed off a smooth jumper to finish, scoring a season-high 21 points and adding 11 rebounds and four blocks. USC (13-8, 5-3 SEC) has won three straight, slightly strengthening its postseason heartbeat.
“I didn’t know about (Martin’s comment),” Kotsar said, smiling. “I felt good today. I felt locked in … but took it play by play and tried to get the win.”
Martin pointed out that Kotsar hasn’t started since he was a freshman just because he’s a good-looking kid.
“Maik played the best game he’s played in a uniform here today,” he said. “Maik’s going to give you everything he’s got.”
Missouri (10-11, 2-6) never had an answer for Kotsar. The Tigers erased a 20-point deficit with 13 minutes to play to win their last game, but even after cutting what was a 16-point Gamecocks lead to nine with 10 minutes to go Saturday, they couldn’t stop the senior.
Kotsar rebounded Dru Smith’s missed free throw, was fouled by Reed Nikko and aced his two tries. Then he finished a jumper that started with Jermaine Couisnard’s steal as the Tigers’ hopes evaporated.
“When we play good, we got a lot of confidence,” said Couisnard, the new point guard whom Martin has credited for being the voice the Gamecocks sorely needed. “Frank was preaching to us, whenever we’re guarding the ball, just stay aggressive with hands off the ball. Last game, everyone got in foul trouble and we kept sending them to the line.”
The Gamecocks survived against Arkansas on Wednesday despite 33 fouls leading to 40 free throws. USC is one of the worst teams in the country at collecting fouls but had four less than Missouri on Saturday and shot 17 more free throws than the Tigers did.
“I thought we swarmed to the ball and were disciplined. The most important part, we didn’t commit all the bad fouls we commit,” Martin said. “We got to eliminate those, and when we do, we got a chance to be a pretty good basketball team.”
Here they go again
The injury dilemma that circled Colonial Life Arena last season has resettled on top of the building. The Gamecocks won, but three players are at least questionable going forward.
Keyshawn Bryant, who missed the first eight games of the season after knee surgery, had swelling in his other knee before the game. He started and played 11 minutes, but it’s something to watch going forward.
Freshman forward Jalyn McCreary is also on that list. He showed up at practice Friday and said he couldn’t straighten his leg. He played six minutes while wearing a large brace. Nothing is structurally wrong with either knee, but the Gamecocks will have to proceed cautiously.
As for redshirt sophomore guard Justin Minaya, he finished the game with his left (shooting) thumb bandaged after it popped out of socket and was put back in place.
He will get the digit examined on Sunday.
A.J. Lawson, considered by some to be a potential NBA draft pick in a few months, scored 13 points with three 3-pointers. He’s at least showing signs of shedding the slump he’s been in for much of the year.
The Gamecocks tip off at Mississippi at 7 p.m. Wednesday.