Martin continues his eighth season as men's basketball head coach

Haley Salvador / The Daily Gamecock

The Gamecock men's basketball team kicked its season off Oct. 30 at Colonial Life Arena with an exhibition against the Columbia International Rams. The Gamecocks started the year with an 87-50 win.

Last season, the Gamecocks fell short of any postseason aspirations, failing to secure a National Invitation Tournament bid for the second consecutive year.

With Frank Martin at the helm for his eighth season as head coach at South Carolina, his young Gamecock team is primed to take the next step in 2019.

Part of the Gamecocks' youth stems from roster turnover, as key starters Chris Silva and Hassani Gravett moved on to the NBA following their senior seasons.

With two of the feature faces of the Martin-led Gamecocks moved on, sophomore AJ Lawson leads the way in the starting rotation this season.

Lawson is coming off a freshman all-SEC season, in which he appeared in 29 out of 32 games. Lawson, a 6-foot-6 guard, averaged 13.4 points per game last season. His athleticism is what draws the most attention, as he excels at perimeter defense and driving to the basket.

"That was my biggest challenge with [Lawson] coming into this year," Martin said. "Let's get your assists up, your turnovers down."

Lawson is averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game and has rounded his play out with 3.8 assists per game coupled and 0.8 turnovers per contest.

Lawson's teammate sophomore Keyshawn Bryant will be out indefinitely with a knee injury, Martin told reporters after the exhibition game.

"The healing part is the part we don't control," Martin said.

Last season, the Gamecocks came out of the gates slowly. In non-conference games, they posted a 5-9 record. This year, the team has started 4-1 and is looking for resume building wins in the young season.

This year's non-conference schedule is highlighted by four matchups against teams in the top 100 of ESPN's college basketball power index, including a matchup with defending national champions, the Virginia Cavaliers. 

The Gamecocks will travel to Charlottesville to face the Cavaliers Dec. 22. Last year, the Gamecocks fell to the Cavaliers at home 69-52.

In conference play last year, despite their subpar overall record, the Gamecocks entered the SEC tournament as the No. 4 seed with an 11-7 conference record. 

According to the experts, the Gamecocks will be punching upwards for the majority of their SEC schedule. South Carolina was voted to finish at No. 10 in the conference in the media-voted preseason poll.

The Gamecocks' toughest SEC stretch comes in mid-January. The Gamecocks will begin their conference schedule Jan. 7 at home against Florida and, shortly thereafter, will face Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Auburn. It will be a test of the young Gamecocks' ability to match tough teams early on in the conference, as they play Tennessee, A&M and Auburn that are all currently ranked in the top 25.


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