COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Justin Minaya had 17 points and 11 rebounds in his return from a knee injury a year ago and South Carolina won its 19th straight season opener with a 77-55 victory over North Alabama on Wednesday night.
Minaya, who missed the final 27 games last season, matched his career best in points and surpassed his previous mark for rebounds. And it was Minaya who led the Gamecocks throughout.
He made 5-of-6 shots the first 20 minutes as the Gamecocks opened a 10-point lead at the break. After the Lions of the Atlantic Sun Conference cut it to 43-39 with Christian Agnew’s bucket early in the second half, Minaya and Jair Bolden took control for South Carolina.
Bolden hit a basket, then made South Carolina’s first 3-pointer of the season to go up 48-39. Bolden’s crisp pass found Minaya for another bucket and Minaya went high to collect Trae Hannibal’s missed shot for another basket and a 52-39 lead.
North Alabama could not respond in the season opener for both teams. The Lions fell to 0-17 all-time against Southeastern Conference opponents.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said several times last season that Minaya was among his most complete players and a rising leader when he got hurt in 2018-19.
Minaya looked the part in the Gamecocks opener, smoothly moving down the court and finishing with several floaters over the smaller Lions. Minaya hit his first five baskets before missing a close-in shot. The 6-foot-6 sophomore also had seven rebounds the first 20 minutes.
Bolden added 14 points for the Gamecocks.
The Lions struggled with their outside shooting against taller, longer South Carolina, going just 24 of 61 (24.8%) overall. They were 2 of 21 from distance.
C.J. Brim led North Alabama with 12 points.
> The Gamecock defense was locked in from start to finish, holding North Alabama to just 24.6 percent shooting (15-of-61). The Lions were just 2-for-21 (22.2 percent) from behind the arc.
> Nine different players scored for South Carolina against the Lions, with seven scoring six or more in a well-balanced offensive effort.
> Redshirt sophomore forward Justin Minaya’s 17 points matched a previous career-high set his freshman season in a win vs. UMASS (12/2/17). The Harrington Park, N.J., native, was 7-of-10 from the floor while leading the team with 33 minutes.
> Redshirt junior guard Jair Bolden scored 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds in his debut in the Garnet and Black. The George Washington transfer was 5-of-9 from the field with a pair of steals.
> Redshirt freshman Jermaine Couisnard and true freshman Jalyn McCreary each had nine points, while sophomore A.J. Lawson had eight and led the team with four assists.
> Sophomore big man Alanzo Frink made his first career start for the Gamecocks. He was 3-for-3 from the field with six points. He was limited to just 12 minutes due to foul trouble.
> Tonight’s victory improves South Carolina’s all-time record in season openers to 83-29. Head coach Frank Martin is 13-0 in openers.
The Gamecocks continue their lengthy homestand to begin the 2019-20 campaign, hosting Wyoming on Sunday for a 12 p.m. ET tipoff. Anish Shroff (play-by-play) and Mark Wise (analyst) will be on the call for the SEC Network broadcast from Colonial Life Arena.
Courtesy: Associated Press