Experience-laden South Carolina opens with Division II Coker

·2 min read

A veteran South Carolina roster tips off its season on Wednesday, hosting Division II opponent Coker in Columbia.

The Gamecocks bring back a core of AJ Lawson, Keyshawn Bryant, Jermaine Couisnard and Justin Minaya from a lineup that went 18-13 in 2019-20.

"We return our whole team, yet no one speaks about us," South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in his Monday media availability. "That's disappointing to me, but ... I don't get out of bed worried about that kind of stuff."

Since reaching the Final Four in 2017, South Carolina fell short of winning 20 games in the three subsequent seasons. The experience and the depth this season could boost expectations, however.

Lawson and Couisnard topped South Carolina with averages of 13.4 points and 12.1 points per game, respectively, and those two along with Bryant and Minaya combined to score more than half of the Gamecocks' 2,275 points.

The addition of North Carolina transfer Seventh Woods -- someone Martin said "had tremendous lessons" in his tenure with the Tar Heels -- adds to South Carolina's depth.

"The one thing that's going to be fun about this team is I think every game, it's going to be a different name who gets credit for a positive result," Martin said.

The South Carolina signature under Martin has been defense. The Gamecocks finished the abruptly halted campaign ranked No. 50 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com advanced metrics.

South Carolina forced opponents into turnovers on about 21 percent of their possessions and 29.6 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc.

In their season opener, the Gamecocks draw a Coker team that averaged 68 points per game to rank No. 283 in Division II.

The Cobras (1-0) opened their 2020-21 season on Saturday scoring just below that average in a 67-53 win over Carson-Newman, but they thrived with an aggressive defense not unlike that of South Carolina. Coker held the Eagles to just 34 percent shooting from the floor and 14.3 percent from 3-point range while forcing 21 turnovers.

The win served as a welcome back for Coker coach Jarred Merrill, who missed the latter half of the 2019-20 after suffering a stroke in December.

"In February, I was in a wheelchair and couldn't move," Merrill said before the opener. "To be back where I'm at now -- which obviously isn't 100 percent -- but to be around the kids, coaching, it's a blessing."

Coker, a school in Hartsville, S.C., faces South Carolina on a short turnaround, coming off a scheduled Tuesday game against Lincoln Memorial, a South Atlantic Conference foe and the No. 2-ranked team in Division II.

The Cobras were picked to finished 11th in the 13-team league's preseason poll.

--Field Level Media