South Carolina fell to Division-II August University 77-72 in an exhibition game last October, a result that put a sour taste in the mouths of many Gamecock fans heading into the 2018-2019 regular season.
Frank Martin wants a different taste this time around.
South Carolina’s head coach wants a victory, obviously, in its 2019-2020 exhibition opener, a game that will be played at Colonial Life Arena against Columbia International University at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
“I’d like to win, contrary to last year, so people don’t freak out because [they think] we’re going to be a bad basketball team,” Martin said. “… I’d like to win. Against Augusta I played crazy lineups and didn’t coach to manage situations. And we lost, and there were a whole lot of people ready to jump off that ship that night.
“To make sure nobody jumps off the ship, because I’m too old to be jumping off to save people, I’d just like to win so people don’t overreact.”
“We’ve been waiting all [spring and summer] for this, to get out and play in front of our fans,” Gamecock redshirt sophomore Justin Minaya said.
Added redshirt junior Jair Bolden, a transfer from George Washington, “Just excited to play against someone else in front of our fans and get that fan support we love.”
Martin and the Gamecocks started 4-7 after the exhibition loss last season and finished 16-16, losing to eventual Final Four qualifier Auburn in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
“I think it helps you realize in college basketball you can’t just go out there and just play and expect things to happen and expect to win,” Minaya said. “Whenever you go up against another team, you have to bring it, no matter who it is.
“We can’t go in there cocky. We have to stick to what we do and play our game.”
Martin has spoken several times this offseason about his team’s growth, particularly its depth and the competition for playing time. In early October he said he has the most athletic team, entering his eighth season at the helm, that he has had during his time in Columbia.
Now it’s about finding a starting lineup and rotation to put the team in position to win.
“Now that we’re closer to starting to play games, some of that stuff starts to play itself out,” the coach said Monday. “Some guys have taken huge steps forward and some guys haven’t regressed, they’ve just kind of stayed neutral.
“… But depth is still a big part of our team. I’m excited for it. I’m excited, even with those guys [who have stayed neutral], I’m excited about the future with them. Who they are as people will eventually allow them to catch up.”
Martin said he can potentially have a rotation of 10-11 players, but he doesn’t yet have a set starting lineup (something he wants to have) or set roles for reserves. (As a high school coach, in 32-minute games, Martin once used a rotation of 11 players who eventually all signed Division-I scholarships.)
“I’m not there yet,” he said. “I might not be there through the month of November. I don’t know. I’ve got ideas about how I want to do it when North Alabama comes in here [for the season opener on Nov. 6].”
But Martin likes where his team is.
He said Monday all his returns are “better basketball players” and are in “a much better place” than they were a year ago, and that Wednesday’s game against Columbia International will be about getting young players experience playing in front of a large crowd with referees.
- Redshirt freshman guard T.J. Moss injured his lower back last Thursday, missed Friday and Saturday practice and returned Sunday.
- Sophomore forward Keyshawn Bryant had a cyst removed from the back of one of his knees on Sunday but should not miss time.
- Senior guard Seventh Woods, who will not play this season due to transfer rules, has been battling a lower back injury but has not missed practice time.