The South Carolina men's basketball team kicked off its season Wednesday night at Colonial Life Arena against the North Alabama Lions. After getting and keeping the lead all night, the Gamecocks defeated the Lions, 77-55.
The starting lineup for the Gamecocks consisted of sophomores Justin Minaya, AJ Lawson and Alanzo Frink, junior Jair Bolden and senior Maik Kotsar.
The first points of the game came from a three-point play off a jumper by North Alabama guard C.J. Brim with a foul on Lawson. The Gamecocks were quick to respond, as Minaya made a layup, keeping the score close within the first few minutes.
Lawson made a three-point play for South Carolina off a shooting foul on Emanuel Littles.
The score remained close within the first 10 minutes, but a breakaway layup by guard Jermaine Couisnard helped give the Gamecocks a four-point advantage.
This lead continued to grow for the Gamecocks as the first half continued.
A key contributor for the Gamecocks' offense was Minaya. Minaya led the Gamecocks in scoring points and rebounds after the first half, with 10 points and seven rebounds.
A close second in points was freshman forward Jalyn McCreary. After the first half, McCreary put up eight points for the Gamecocks, all of which came in the last three minutes of the half.
South Carolina went into halftime with a 37-27 lead.
As the second half began, the Gamecocks scored two points.
For the Lions, Brim put up two points and Jamari Blackmon sank a 3-pointer. South Carolina had a five-point lead with a score of 39-34.
"It's a hard team for us to play against, and we were not as sharp as we needed to be because of how they played defensively; that constant pressure," head coach Frank Martin said. "Their guards never let our guards get anywhere with the dribble."
Momentum shifted back in the Gamecocks' favor when Bolden sank a 3-pointer, and Minaya made two layups, causing North Alabama to call a timeout.
After the timeout, South Carolina continued to extend its lead as freshman guard Trae Hannibal came up with a breakaway dunk.
South Carolina's defense put serious pressure on North Alabama halfway through the second half and held them to only five points in over four minutes.
Once their defense stopped the Lions from scoring, the Gamecock offense extended their lead to 20 points late in the second half.
The Gamecocks kept pushing on offense and defense for the remainder of the game and took the 77-55 season-opening win.
The key player of the night for the Gamecocks was forward starter Minaya.
The redshirt sophomore led the Gamecocks in points and rebounds for his first game back after an injury last season.
"It was really tough mentally on me to sit out, 'cause I really wanted to get back last year to help my teammates out, and when I realized that wasn't happening, I was kinda in a rough spot, mentally," Minaya said.
He contributed to almost half of the Gamecocks' points in the first half and continued to be consistent on offense throughout the rest of the game.
Minaya finished the night with a double-double, earning 17 points, 11 rebounds and a 7-10 field goal percentage.
"I was really excited to come back out there and play the game I love. I mean, to be there for my teammates and everything. But, yeah, I had a lot of emotions coming before the game, realizing it was my first game back, but once the game started it was just back to normal," Minaya said.
"Winning's always better than the alternative, but your joy can't come out of the score of the game. Your joy has to come on your ability to perform because you prepared a certain way, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose," Martin said.
South Carolina is back in Colonial Life Arena Sunday, Nov. 10, for its next game against Wyoming. Tipoff is at noon and the game will be streamed on the SEC Network.