South Carolina uses strong first half to top Texas A&M 74-54
By PETE IACOBELLI
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Frank Martin finally has his “mouthpiece" in freshman Jermaine Couisnard and that could mean more big things ahead for the Gamecocks.
Couisnard had 19 points as South Carolina used a big first-half run to put away Texas A&M 74-54 on Saturday, the Gamecocks sixth win in its past eight games.
Martin credits Couisnard's rise as point guard and team leader as the major reason why they're in the top half of the Southeastern Conference race.
“Jermaine's become our mouthpiece and the mouthpiece has to accept coaching more than anybody," Martin said. “The mouthpiece has to not just compliment and encourage, but confront. And he's willing to do both."
Couisnard had his seventh game with double-digit points in his last nine. No coincidence the Gamecocks (14-8, 6-4 SEC) are 6-3 in that stretch.
“I just come out to have fun," said Couisnard with a smile.
He also looks to do whatever it takes for South Carolina to succeed.
After the Gamecocks, who were coming off a loss last game out, fell behind 9-0, it was Couisnard and AJ Lawson who rallied them to a decisive 41-14 run to lead by 18 points at the break.
Couisnard missed the SEC opener, an 81-68 loss to Florida last month, with back issues. Sitting out frustrated him and he vowed he would not miss chances to help the Gamecocks.
“I knew how important it was for me to be out there," he said.
Lawson finished with 18 points. He and Couisnard combined for six of South Carolina's eight 3-pointers in their fourth straight win over the Aggies (11-11, 5-5).
Couisnard and Lawson led the first-half surge with their outside shooting. Lawson hit a 3-pointer after South Carolina had fallen behind 9-0 the first three minutes.
Couisnard, a freshman, put the Gamecocks up for good, 19-18, with nine minutes left in the opening half.
He capped the half with a long, buzzer-beating 3-pointer that got the crowd to its feet and put South Carolina ahead by 18 points at the break.
The Gamecocks built the lead to 61-30 early in the second half, although the Aggies never got closer than the final score the rest of the way.
Texas A&M missed 10 of its last 11 shots of the half to fall into the large hole it could not climb out of.
Quenton Jackson had 16 points to lead the Aggies.
Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams hoped his team would build off its fast start. Instead, the Aggies were “bullied” by South Carolina's defense.
“At least we stopped the avalanche of the physicality of how they were handling us," he said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Texas A&M: The Aggies don't have enough reliable scorers when things get tough in SEC play. They were outscored 24-5 over the final 8:38 of the opening half as Texas A&M went from a point ahead to 18-points down by halftime. The Aggies finished shooting 27.3%, their worst showing in the SEC this season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks looked solid in their first game without injured starter Justin Minaya. He was averaging nearly nine points and seven rebounds, but was the team leader in minutes per game, a testament to his steady, smart play. Minaya had surgery on his left thumb and could return sometime next month.
South Carolina's Couisnard has had a couple of noteworthy 3-pointers with time running out. His biggest came last month in a 81-78 win over then No. 10 Kentucky as Couisnard made a long 3 at the buzzer. He did the same thing to end the half against the Aggies to stretch South Carolina's lead. Couisnard said he was simply attempting to get off a shot, not make one, “I promise you," he said.
South Carolina has upped its efficiency at the foul line, hitting past 70% the past two games after barely cracking .500 the two contests before that. The reason is simple, Martin said. “I'm a better coach," he joked.
Texas A&M returns home to play Florida on Wednesday night.
South Carolina goes to Georgia on Wednesday night.
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Updated February 8, 2020