South Carolina beats Coastal Carolina 85-79 behind Lawson

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson and Hassani Gravett each notched a career-high in points as the Gamecocks held on to beat Coastal Carolina 85-79 on Friday night.

Lawson was scoreless in South Carolina’s last game, but with preseason All-SEC selection Chris Silva again in early foul trouble Friday, he shouldered the scoring load with 25 points against the Chanticleers. Gravett added 23.

The Gamecocks (4-3) erased an eight-point deficit in the first half to lead by nine at the break, but the Chanticleers, who hit 11 3-pointers, never went away.

Coastal erased a 10-point deficit to lead by one seven minutes into the first half, but Silva, playing with three fouls, woke up. He swished a soft hook shot from the right side, put a miss back with a thunderous dunk and tightened his defense.

His six points when the game was tied at 61 made up most of a 9-0 USC run to give the Gamecocks a comfortable lead. Silva ended with nine points and five rebounds, crediting the burst to clearing his mind.

“I think I just been overthinking, putting too much pressure on myself,” Silva said. “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.”

The Chanticleers’ Zac Cuthbertson and his teammates’ long-range shooting kept Coastal close but South Carolina, in the bonus with 12 minutes to play, kept hitting free throws. The Gamecocks were 25-of-33 from the line and stroked 10 3-pointers of their own.

“We know that this team, right now, the game goes through Silva and (forward Maik) Kotsar,” Coastal coach Cliff Ellis said. “You got to make other people beat you. Well, Gravett did what he’s supposed to do.”

BIG PICTURE

South Carolina: The Gamecocks were humbled on their home court last time out by Wofford, a strong team but not one that should hang with, much less beat, a team that was in the Final Four less than two years ago. Coach Frank Martin is still working with a young team that has already had numerous injuries and keeps preaching a learning process.

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

Coastal Carolina: Cuthbertson is a potential Sun Belt player of the year candidate, leading the Chanticleers in scoring, rebounding and assists. The Chants lost their top two point guards to injury within the first two games. “We’ve got to get some guys back,” Ellis said.

STAR WATCH

Martin doesn’t allow freshmen to speak to the media until after the first semester ends, but he may not want Lawson to speak as well as he’s playing. The rookie from Canada, who re-classified to enroll early at South Carolina, has scored in double figures in five of seven games and had nine points in another.

“The whole season, he’s had a great time with us and made some big plays,” Gravett said. “People have down days sometimes. He definitely came back and responded to the challenges asked of him.”

HE SAID IT

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

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

UP NEXT

South Carolina 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, which recently fell out of the Top 25.

Coastal Carolina hosts Hampton on Wednesday to start its last four-game stretch of non-conference games. The Chanticleers will have two home and two away games during the stretch, including a Dec. 9 game at Wofford, which whipped the Gamecocks by 20 points.