Since getting off to a slow start to his final season, Maik Kotsar has been on a mission to prove he can have a big senior year and lead his South Carolina team.
Jair Bolden just wanted to prove he belongs.
Both did just that Sunday, stepping up to lead the Gamecocks to a 74-65 win over George Washington at Colonial Life Arena.
Kotsar had his fifth straight double-figure game, scoring a season-high 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting while Bolden, a transfer point guard, had 12 points against his former team. Kotsar also had nine rebounds and two blocked shots.
AJ Lawson added 14 points and Jermaine Couisnard had 12 as South Carolina improved to 5-3 on the season.
Kotsar and Bolden both made big shots down the stretch as the Gamecocks held off the scrappy Colonials. The two combined to score six points early in the second half to help the Gamecocks build a 17-point lead. Then, after GW cut the lead to nine, Bolden hit a jumper with seven minutes remaining to push the lead back to 13. Kotsar's bucket with 5:24 left put the Gamecocks up 63-50.
Kotsar then had a steal with 1:23 remaining to set up a Couisnard bucket that put the Gamecocks up by 10. His fast-break dunk with 27 seconds remaining sealed the win.
Kotsar's play continued to provide the leadership his young team needs early in the season.
“As senior I feel like I need to be there for my team every night," he said. "I feel more confident and the guys are helping me out with this. They are there to support me."
“We look to Maik as our leader on and off the court," Bolden said. "When he plays well it sets the tone for the team."
Head coach Frank Martin is thrilled with what he has seen from his senior big man in the past five games.
"He’s playing with confidence right now," Martin said. " … I couldn’t be happier for him. I want him to stay aggressive. He’s battling. His minutes are way up. I’m really happy for Maik and we need him to keep doing what he is doing."
Bolden was determined to have a big game against his former team, which he made 16 starts for over two seasons.
“It was pretty fun playing against those guys," he said. "All the juniors and seniors I went to war with those guys. I definitely wanted to get a win and play well, for sure."
Coming off back-to-back losses in the Cancun Challenge in Cancun, Mexico, the Gamecocks came out blazing against GW, hitting their first eight shots to jump out to a 19-4 lead. They also made life miserable for GW. The Colonials scored just five points in the first eight minutes of the game and shot 26 percent in the first half.
Bolden made an early statement against his former team, knocking down a jumper for South Carolina's first points and scoring eight of his team's first 15. Bolden, Lawson and Kotsar each had eight first-half points as the Gamecocks led 35-23 at the half.
South Carolina shot 53 percent for the game, while holding GW to 33 percent. The Gamecocks out-rebounded the Colonials 46-32. Freshman Wildens Leveque, who started his fourth straight game, had seven rebounds and two blocked shots along with six points.
"I’m so happy with that kid right now," Martin said. "… "For Wildens to come in and do what he did on the court today, for a kid seven games into his career, really, really excited about him."
Martin was pleased with the effort of his team after losses in Cancun to Wichita State and Northern Iowa.
"My team was aggravating me for three weeks," he said. "But we had a really good practice [yesterday] and a desire to do things right we haven’t had in a while. We had the best shoot-around today since Wyoming and that’s why we came out and played the way we did to start the game.
"We’re close, we’re not far away. Those teams we played in Cancun are really good teams."