COLUMBIA — Maik Kotsar heard it.
He started as a freshman on a Final Four team. His sophomore year wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. As a junior through 13 games this year, it was mostly, “What is wrong with him?”
He heard all of it. And it was past time for it to stop.
Kotsar played the game of his life in South Carolina’s 87-82 overtime upset of No. 14 Mississippi State on Tuesday, scoring a career-high 25 points and hitting every clutch shot down the stretch. The junior from Estonia, three games removed from a concussion and only a few days since Frank Martin said the Gamecocks needed something more from whoever started next to Chris Silva, was on every loose ball and every big rebound.
“Started off missing a few shots, but my teammates were there to pick me up,” Kotsar said. “I think this was pretty much my most confident game.”
The Gamecocks (7-7) are tied for first place in the SEC. They are 2-0 in the league for the first time since 2016-17, their Final Four year, and only the fifth time in 28 seasons.
“I’ve been fighting him, in a good way, to believe in himself,” Martin said. “So I’m really happy he played with that aggression and that confidence. We need him to keep growing.”
* Martin mentioned the struggle he’s had with Kotsar, from hugging to yelling to challenging to breaking down film. Kotsar started two years ago but was content being the fifth guy among a group of established stars.
“Maik can be a guy that makes a lot of money playing basketball. I just want him to be aggressive, man,” Martin said. “I hope this gives him confidence.”
Hassani Gravett, who scored 17 points, had another theory.
“I think that concussion helped him out,” he said.
* Amazing how much better a team looks with its best players on the floor. Silva and Kotsar had zero fouls among them in the first half and not surprisingly, scored a combined 17 points.
For Silva, especially, his performances the past two games have been what USC expected to see all year.
A sit-down with Martin after the Wyoming loss started it and playing MSU, whose coach Ben Howland once called Silva the meanest man in the SEC, exacerbated it.
He did pick up three fouls in the first six minutes of the second half, but ended with 12 rebounds.
* Felipe Haase has always been a project, a big man with a deft outside shot that is good for gobbling minutes.
Perhaps his baseball pass to Silva for the game-winning dunk at Florida loosened him up. He scored seven points in the first half after coming in averaging 5.9 per game and ended with 11.
* MSU has speed and quickness up and down the lineup, as well as shooters, and the Gamecocks may not play a team as fast as the Bulldogs the rest of the year (or at least not until they play in Starkville on Feb. 23). Yet USC’s weakness at keeping the ball in front of their defense was severely exposed.
The Bulldogs were relentless cutting to the basket and the Gamecocks couldn’t stop it.
MSU shot 45.3 percent from the field. Forward Aric Holman, who stands 6-foot-10, hit five 3-pointers.
The Citadel’s Summerall Guards performed at halftime, offering a home-court twist. As they prepared to leave the court, they marched in formation chanting, “U-S-C, Fight Cocks Fight.”
The Gamecocks host Missouri on Saturday.