After having its exhibition match against Coker canceled on Wednesday, the Gamecock men’s basketball team traveled out west to Kansas City, Missouri, to open its season in the Hall of Fame Classic Saturday and Sunday.
Northwestern pulled out of the event on Nov. 18 due to COVID-19 concerns. It was replaced by the Liberty Flames, which won 30 games last year and finished almost 60 spots better than the Wildcats in KenPom rankings.
The game tipped off at 4 p.m. on Saturday as scheduled, and the Gamecocks' season was underway.
South Carolina took an early 2-0 lead with junior forward Alanzo Frink's free throws. After that, eight first-half three-pointers led Liberty to a 43-26 first-half lead.
“We should’ve just closed out better and communicated," junior guard AJ Lawson said.
The Gamecocks moved to a full-court press about halfway through the second half, but that helped Liberty extend its lead out to almost 20 points.
Liberty won by 78-62, beating its second SEC opponent in three days.
Lawson, junior forward Keyshawn Bryant and redshirt sophomore guard Jermaine Couisnard all scored double-digit points in the game. Liberty shot a 56% from the field, finishing off with 11 threes. The Gamecocks struggled from the field, shooting 39%.
“Kinda what I expected today," Gamecock men's basketball head coach Frank Martin said. "We were a little tight, a little nervous.”
South Carolina looked to rebound on Sunday as it faced the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. The two teams faced off in 2015 when the Gamecocks beat them 83-75 on the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It started with runs on both sides. Tulsa began with a 9-point run, and the Gamecocks responded with an 8-point run themselves.
The rest of the first half was a three-point show from Lawson and Couisnard, each finishing with four on the day.
“I felt good, to be honest. I just kept on trying to build our confidence,” Couisnard said.
South Carolina headed into the break with a one-point lead, and it was back-and-forth for the first ten minutes of the second half.
Tulsa had an 8-point run and took a 51-49 lead. From there, the Gamecocks responded by going on a 15-point run, where the Golden Hurricanes went 9:28 scoreless.
The Gamecocks won 69-58. Couisnard finished the game off with 20 points, which was his best performance since scoring 28 points last season at Ole Miss on Feb. 5.
“We actually executed a couple of times coming out of timeouts," Martin said. "We attacked their zone again, and we caught them overloading. ... We didn’t jog, we ran."
South Carolina will travel to Houston for a matchup against the Cougars on Saturday. Tip-off is at 8 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+.