The Daily Gamecock

South Carolina men's basketball exceeded expectations through transfer portal additions, camaraderie

<p>FILE - The Gamecock men's basketball team huddles after drawing a foul during the team’s game against Notre Dame on Nov. 28, 2023. The Gamecocks finished the 2023-24 season 28-6.</p>
FILE - The Gamecock men's basketball team huddles after drawing a foul during the team’s game against Notre Dame on Nov. 28, 2023. The Gamecocks finished the 2023-24 season 28-6.

The South Carolina men's basketball team reached the end of the road of its 2023-24 season when it was eliminated by the Oregon Ducks in the first round of the NCAA men’s tournament on March 21.

The loss ended one of the most successful seasons in Gamecock history, in which the program reached a new regular season win record of 25, ultimately going 26-8 with its sole win in the SEC Tournament. 

The Gamecocks reached new heights in many ways this season, as it had the best record turnaround between two seasons in program history. The team won 14 more regular season games than it did in 2022-23 when it finished 11-21. 

It just goes to the coaching staff and what they were able to do, bringing in the seniors, and obviously (freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles) stepping up big later on,” junior guard Meechie Johnson said. “It really just starts with them. They believed in us since the jump.”

South Carolina’s 13 wins in SEC conference play were the second most in school history. The Gamecocks tied a school record for seven of those wins being on the road. The team was recognized as high as No. 11 on the AP Poll, a mark it hadn’t reached since the 1997-98 season when it ranked No. 5 in the country. 

Head coach Lamont Paris can be partially credited for the team's immense success in his second season leading South Carolina. Paris already took home the SEC Coach of the Year Award and is a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year award alongside T.J. Otzelberger from Iowa State, Dan Hurley from UConn and Kelvin Sampson from Houston. 

Paris’ second season leading the Gamecocks led to a six-year contract extension through the 2029-30 season.

The season saw memorable upsets as well, such as the Gamecocks' victory over No. 6 Kentucky 79-62 on Jan. 23 at Colonial Life Arena, which was followed by a massive storming of the court. Another notable ranked victory came on the road when the Gamecocks took down the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers on Jan. 30.

Some players, such as senior forward Josh Gray and junior guard Jacobi Wright, saw success after experiencing a tough prior season.

"For both Jacobi and myself, this is year three," Gray said. "We've kept our head down. We've stayed humble throughout. It's a process, and this year we knew we had a good group of guys coming in. No egos. A lot of team camaraderie. And for it to pay off like this — it's just priceless."

Many players had productive individual seasons, most notably fifth-year guard Ta’Lon Cooper and Johnson. Each earned second-team All-SEC honors

Cooper, who previously played for Morehead State and Minnesota, averaged 9.9 points per game while leading the team in assists at 4.2 per game. Johnson was the team leader in points per game at 14.1 and scored a team-high 24 points in the final game of the season against Oregon. 

This was a winning group. Changed the program around from the year that they had the year before,” Cooper said. “Just a great group of guys that just loved to play with each other.”

But the guard spots for next season now need to be filled. Cooper has exhausted all of his years of NCAA eligibility while Johnson recently entered the transfer portal. Johnson, who spent two years in the program after originally playing for Ohio State, is also expected to look at entering the NBA draft, according to On3

The Gamecocks will also need to replace one of the starting forward spots following the graduation of fifth-year B.J. Mack. Mack, who previously played for South Florida and Wofford, averaged 13.6 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game

The Gamecocks will look forward to the return of Murray-Boyles, who exploded onto the scene in December after missing the first games of the season from a mononucleosis diagnosis.

Murray-Boyles earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors and made a name for himself in SEC conference play, reaching his height when he scored 31 points at home against Vanderbilt on Feb. 10. Murray-Boyles finished the season averaging 10.4 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game. 

There’s growth, and then there’s whatever the word that you would use — metamorphosis,” Paris said. “From that first time he was physically able to compete in a college game to who he is right now — it's metamorphosis.” 

South Carolina is likely expected to be aggressive in the transfer portal, as it brought in much of this season’s talent from the portal, including Cooper, Mack, junior guard Myles Stute from Vanderbilt and graduate forward Stephen Clark from The Citadel. 

After being projected to finish last in the SEC, the outcome for the Gamecocks exceeded expectations. After extending Paris' contract and retaining players and additions from the portal once the off-season begins, South Carolina will look to build off of its success. 

You could have great guys, high-quality guys, that it just doesn’t translate when it comes to how they mesh together. And it did. It did in an incredible way,” Paris said. “It always starts from within, and this group had all of those characteristics and then some.”

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