Lawson

A.J. Lawson had a career-high in points Friday. File/USC

COLUMBIA — The pass came to Chris Silva on the baseline and he turned to do what he’s done for going on four years. Another poor rim was about to feel the fury of a Silva Slam.

His gentle hook shot trickled across the front of the iron, where it was rebounded by Coastal Carolina’s Ajay Sanders. Sanders immediately hit a 3-pointer to cut South Carolina’s lead to three points.

Seriously, Silva, what’s wrong?

“I think I just been overthinking, putting too much pressure on myself,” Silva said following the Gamecocks’ 85-79 win over the Chanticleers Friday. “I kind of forgot how to enjoy the game. Coach told me to go out there and play as hard as you can and enjoy the game.”

Silva, after six games of mostly missing in action, scored six of his nine points in a burst when the game was tied at 61 to push USC ahead. Star freshman A.J. Lawson pumped in a career-high 25 points while Hassani Gravett also set a career-high with 23, and USC (4-3) again returned to a winning record.

It’s too soon to say that Silva is definitely back, but Friday was an encouraging sign. The Gamecocks have slogged through the early season with the player they have to depend on hobbled, but with the guards shooting well, USC at least played decently before a brutal stretch.

“We’re a soft basketball team. We don’t rebound and we don’t make competitive plays on the ball,” coach Frank Martin said. “We got to work on that.”

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* Lawson has been in double figures in every game but two and scored a career-high after posting a goose egg in a loss to Wofford. He had 11 points from the free-throw line in 15 attempts, which was refreshing to see after he began the year shooting .500 from the stripe.  

* Gravett continues to flourish after not having to worry about playing point guard. Four of his seven field goals were 3-pointers and he came off the bench to spark the Gamecocks when Silva was once again in foul trouble.

* Freshman Keyshawn Bryant is always good for a highlight reel. He had seven points and four rebounds, collecting two points on a vicious dunk where he swung nearly horizontal from the rim.

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* Silva woke up but it came after a start where he had as many points as fouls (three) with one rebound.

“He’s got to stop worrying about that he’s got a burden on his shoulders to lead us back to the Final Four. He’s got to worry about what he has to do to make an impact on a team that made a run to the Final Four,” Martin said. “Chris is a beautiful kid. I’ve been mad at him this year and I probably shouldn’t have been.”

* The Gamecocks were out-rebounded for the fourth time in seven games.

He said it

Why did Martin start three freshmen (Lawson, T.J. Moss and Bryant)?

“I just want to keep getting balder,” Martin said. “It’s important to me that my bald spot keeps growing.”

Coming up

USC begins a four-game stretch that will go a long way toward determining its postseason chances. The Gamecocks are at Wyoming on Wednesday, then travel to No. 7 Michigan Dec. 8 to complete the road trip. After that is the exam break and back-to-back games against No. 4 Virginia and archrival Clemson.

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.