AJ Lawson

AJ Lawson drives to the basket in preseason exhibition. 

It was a preseason exhibition game, so there were positives and negatives to South Carolina’s 87-50 win over Columbia International Wednesday night.

But Frank Martin saw a lot of things he liked from his 2019-20 team.

Sophomore guard AJ Lawson, an SEC All-Freshman selection last year, led the Gamecocks with 23 points and seven assists. Junior point guard Jair Bolden, a transfer from George Washington, had 12 points and six assists. Senior forward Maik Kotsar had 12 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore Alanzo Frink added nine points and eight rebounds. And freshman forward Jalyn McCreary led the newcomers with 15 points off the bench.

“We’ve got firepower,” Martin said. “We’re also immature and we played that way in certain segments of the game. Little by little, we’ll get all the parts connected.”

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The Gamecocks, who open the regular season next week against North Alabama, played without sophomore forward Keyshawn Bryant, who is expected to be out four to six weeks with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Jermaine Couisnard, who is expected to play a big role this season, also missed the game with a minor illness.

“Just another basketball season at South Carolina,” Martin quipped about the loss of Bryant, who was expected to start at forward.

Lawson, South Carolina’s second-leading scorer last year, flirted with the NBA Draft before deciding to return for his sophomore season. He showed why he is expected to take his game to the next level this year. When Columbia International, a local NAIA school, made a brief run to start the second half, Lawson took over at point guard and led the Gamecocks on a run of their own to put the game away.

“AJ kinda put himself at the point and took over the game,” Martin said. “He played with a lot better tempo than he did early last year. He played with better pace.

“When he gets out in the open court, he is so fast, he sees rim and he’s gone. Starting to see him remain aggressive against set defenses and play at different speeds.”

Martin was also pleased with the play of his young big men. Frink was aggressive on the boards, while 6-11 freshman Wildens Leveque had seven rebounds and two blocked shots. McCreary, a 6-7 freshman, was all over the court, adding three rebounds and three assists to his 15 points.

“Him and Wildens were really active,” Martin said. “Jayln is one of those guys when he shoots it, it figures out way to go in the rim. He’s a basketball player. He’s got instinct and willingness to go make a play. He’s got courage.”

Martin compared the energetic McCreary to a young Chris Silva.

“With him, it’s understanding the things we are trying to do,” he said. “I can have patience with him if he goes after the ball, and he does that. He has a knack for finding the ball. He’s a basketball player.”