The one-week layoff since South Carolina's upset over No. 9 Virginia Dec. 22 cost the Gamecocks, which fell to Stetson Monday, 63-56.
South Carolina, 8-5, struggled from the outset and never got on track in the non-conference loss. After impressive road wins at Clemson and Virginia, the Gamecocks looked out of sync from the start, trailing by seven at the half and falling behind by as many as 13 in the second half.
South Carolina shot just 38 percent from the floor and was just 4-of-19 from 3-point range. The Gamecocks made only 12 of 24 free throws. Stetson, 6-9, shot just 36 percent but made seven 3-pointers and was 24-of-36 from the free-throw line.
Maik Kotsar led South Carolina with 11 points while Justin Minaya had a team-high nine rebounds. No other player scored in double figures. Leading scorer AJ Lawson played just 13 minutes and scored only eight points with four turnovers. He had two of the team's 4 3s, but the second one came with just 29 seconds left in the game.
Columbia native (Cardinal Newman High School) Christiaan Jones led Stetson with a game-high 18 points.
Kotsar said South Carolina was not aggressive enough against Stetson's zone defense.
“I don’t think our preparation was bad. I think in practices we were aggressive and played well. But today we weren’t aggressive at all. Everything we practiced went flying out the window," Kotsar said.
“Their guys wanted to play and ours didn’t," head coach Frank Martin said. "... I thought the last two days were were alright. Shoot-around this morning I didn’t see a lot of pop in what we were doing. Then the first shot of the game Jair [Bolden] shot an air ball and it went from there."
South Carolina trailed 51-40 with seven minutes remaining but Kotsar and Trae Hannibal sparked a 9-0 run and the Gamecocks cut the lead to 2, 51-49, on Minaya's 3 with 5:20 left. But Stetson added three free throws and a 3 to push the lead to 56-50 with 4:07 remaining.
Jermaine Couisnard's three-point play cut the lead to 56-53 with 2:30 left but the Gamecocks could not capitalize on a great defensive play by Minaya and Stetson scored a layup to push the lead back to 5.
The Gamecocks struggled from the start against the Atlantic Sun Conference team. South Carolina could get nothing going offensively early in the game and trailed 19-13 with just 6:40 left in the first half.
They struggled to score with Lawson not playing well and sitting out most of the game. Asked why the team's leading scoring played only 13 minutes, Martin said, “Don’t ask me, ask him. … You see him play the first six minutes? … Would you have played him?”
Both teams heated up after that but Stetson out-rebounded South Carolina 19-17 in the first half and led 33-26 at the half as the Gamecocks shot just 38 percent from the floor and were 0-7 from 3-point range.
The Gamecocks open SEC play Jan. 7 at home against Florida. They finished the non-conference schedule 8-5 with upset losses to Boston University and Stetson.
Monday's loss continued a trend of South Carolina dropping non-conference games it was expected to win. And this one came one week after it's biggest victory over the season, a 70-59 win over the defending national champions.
“We can’t be Jekyll and Hyde. Today we had split personalities again," Martin said. "... We're a very immature basketball team."