South Carolina split their two games in Kansas City to open the season this weekend. After getting outplayed and outgunned against Liberty on Saturday, they bounced back to beat Tulsa the next day. Frank Martin has a deep roster this season. However, as the first two games showed, this team will only go as far as the two headline guys in the Gamecock backcourt will take them. A.J. Lawson and Jermaine Cousinard must lead the way if this program is to get back to the NCAA tournament next spring.
South Carolina Gamecock Backcourt Leaders Key to Success
The entire team struggled in the opener against the Liberty Flames. They were tight to open the game, and could never get in sync on offense. Once the Flames three-point shooting got going midway through the first half, they built a lead that South Carolina couldn’t overcome. Couisnard and Lawson couldn’t get going all day. They finished the game a combined 9-24 from the field and 2-9 from beyond the arc. Coach Martin’s team needs these two to lead from the front, and that didn’t happen on Saturday. The next afternoon was a different story, with the Gamecock backcourt duo combining for 37 points and eight three-pointers. Each of these guys were voted to preseason All-SEC teams. When they both play up to that reputation at the same time, this team is hard to beat.
It has long been a notion that Canadian people are extremely polite and courteous by nature. Lawson, a Toronto native, needs to break that trend and find his mean streak. The 6’6” guard has the athletic ability and skill set to be the best player on the floor most nights when South Carolina plays. Sometimes it seems as if he left his aggressiveness at home, and he can sort of coast through games. He is still effective in letting the game come to him, but he can impact things so much more when he’s aggressive. If this Gamecock team is going to reach its potential, he needs to play with more assertiveness each and every night. His shooting ability is an important cog in for the South Carolina offense, and he has improved each season in Columbia with his spot-up jumper. Lawson takes his game to another level on nights where he doesn’t just settle for being a shooter. He’s at his best when he attacks the rim in the half-court and in transition. The pressure he can put on defenses when he is in attack mode opens the game up for the rest of the squad.
Last season South Carolina was trying to find their rhythm in the midst of a difficult non-conference slate. Coach Martin inserted Couisnard into the point guard role as SEC play began, and he responded with a career-high 27 points including the game-winner in an upset over Kentucky. He has been the point man for this offense since that night. The sophomore guard plays with a toughness and confidence that his teammates feed off of. He scored 20 in the victory over Tulsa on Sunday. Couisnard needs to be the lead man in the Gamecock backcourt for this team to reach its goals of postseason play. He has a versatile scoring skillset and has shown good vision and passing abilities. Like Lawson, he is best in the open court but has improved in the half-court offense as well. His outside shooting is still searching for consistency, but he has proven a threat from long range.
While the Gamecock backcourt duo of Lawson and Couisnard will be the ones to carry this team from a talent standpoint, one could argue that Justin Minaya is the team’s most important player. The junior from New Jersey does a little bit of everything for Coach Martin’s team. He provides a solid spot-up shooting option when the guards drive the basketball. The 6’7 forward is also the Gamecocks’ best defender. Minaya is a very good rebounder from the wing spot as well, especially on the offensive glass. Martin has mentioned multiple times that the team feeds off his energy and enthusiasm. He and Keyshawn Bryant provide South Carolina with two solid wings that can affect the game in multiple, albeit different, ways. Minaya’s ability to impact the game even without scoring will be crucial to the Gamecocks’ success.
Gamecock Backcourt Key Moving Forward
This season will be one with no days off. South Carolina sits at 1-1 and travels to play at the #10 Houston Cougars next. This match-up did not go well in Columbia last year. The Gamecocks will look to show how much they’ve grown since that meeting. Coach Martin’s group will lean heavily on their talented backcourt duo if they want to pull off a road upset. The Gamecocks must protect that ball better, and be locked in on defense from the tip in order to do so. This team has depth and talent, now it is time to show they can perform when the stakes are high.
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