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Gamecocks Host North Alabama In Season Opener Wednesday

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11/5/2019 | Men's Basketball GCF Staff Report
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The South Carolina men's basketball team officially begins the 2019-20 campaign on Wednesday when it hosts North Alabama for a 7 p.m. ET tipoff at Colonial Life Arena. The contest will be broadcast on SEC Network+ and the Gamecock Radio Network.

> South Carolina opens its 112th season of varsity basketball on Wednesday against North Alabama at Colonial Life Arena.
> South Carolina is 82-29 all-time in season openers and the Gamecocks have not lost a season lidlifter since suffering a 73-67 loss to Tennessee Tech to open the 2000-01 campaign. Carolina posted a 65-52 win in last season's opener versus USC Upstate. Frank Martin is undefeated at 12-0 in season lidlifters during his career as a head coach (5-0 at Kansas State, 7-0 at Carolina).
> Wednesday's season opener is the first of five straight home contests to start the season for Carolina.
> Sophomore guard AJ Lawson is Carolina's top returning scorer after contributing 13.4 points per outing last season. Lawson, who was named to the Jerry West Award Watch List last month, posted 18 double-figure scoring games last season, including six 20-point performances.
> R-sophomore forward Justin Minaya returns to the court for the Garnet and Black after missing the final 27 games last season due to injury. Prior to being sidelined, Minaya averaged 7.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in 25.6 minutes per contest last fall.

> North Alabama is in only its second season in Division I basketball, having moved up from DII prior to last season.
> Leading the Lions is head coach Tony Pujol in his second season. Pujol, who is from the same neighborhood as Gamecock head coach Frank Martin in Miami, served as an assistant coach at Alabama and Wyoming, among others, prior to his hiring at UNA.
> In their last 16 seasons, the Lions are 11-5 in season openers, however, UNA suffered a 91-74 loss at Samford in last season's opener.
> North Alabama returns three starters from last season's squad, including its top returning scorer in Jamari Blackmon, who averaged 14.6 points per outing last year.
> Blackmon was named the ASUN Freshman of the Year last season.
> UNA was picked to finish sixth in the ASUN's annual preseason poll and Blackmon was named to the Preseason All-Conference squad following his standout freshman season.

> South Carolina is led by eighth-year head coach Frank Martin. Martin, the 2017 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year, owns a 246-160 record in his 12 seasons as a head coach, and a 129-106 record as he begins his eighth season at Carolina.
> Joining Martin on the sidelines is a veteran staff, including assistant coaches Perry Clark (seventh season), Chuck Martin (third season) and Bruce Shingler (fourth season), director of basketball operations Andy Assaley (eighth season) and strength and conditioning coach Scott Greenawalt (eighth season), and several support staff members.
> South Carolina returns a core group from last season's squad, while welcoming seven newcomers to Columbia, including five freshmen - Trey AndersonJalyn McCrearyTrae HannibalWildens Leveque and Mike Green, transfer Seventh Woods (North Carolina/not eligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules) and graduate transfer Micaiah Henry (Tennessee Tech/immediately eligible).
> Carolina's top returning scorer, and 2019 SEC All-Freshman Team honoree, is sophomore guard AJ Lawson, who scored 13.4 points per outing last season, while dishing 2.9 assists per game. Over the summer, Lawson competed for Team Canada at the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece, leading the Canadians with 16.7 points per outing, including an event-high 31 points vs. Senegal.
> The Gamecocks lost two starters to injury early last season in sophomore guard Justin Minaya (missed final 27 games of the season) and rookie guard TJ Moss (missed 25 games last season); the duo have both fully recovered and are back on the court for the Garnet and Black.
> R-junior guard Jair Bolden, who was unable to play last season due to NCAA transfer rules (transferred in the summer of 2018 after playing two seasons at George Washington), will bring veteran leadership and proven scoring ability to the court this season for Carolina, as the Brooklyn, N.Y., native averaged 11.2 points per game as a sophomore for the Colonials, while also pacing the team with 98 assists on the season.
> In non-conference play, Carolina will host five-straight matchups to start the campaign, before traveling to Mexico for the Cancun Challenge, where matchups against Wichita State, and either West Virginia or Northern Iowa await. In December, the Gamecocks host George Washington, before a matchup at UMass, followed by a home contest against Houston and consecutive road games at Clemson and Virginia.
> In SEC action, the Gamecocks open league play on Jan. 7 at Colonial Life Arena against No. 6/6 Florida, while also hosting No. 2/2 Kentucky, No. 22/24 LSU, and No. -/25 Tennessee in conference play (rankings listed are preseason).
> Carolina recently announced it will add throwback uniforms to its lineup for game attire this upcoming season. Fans can get their first glimpse of the throwback uniforms when the Gamecocks host Houston on Dec. 8 at Colonial Life Arena.
> South Carolina returns 43.9 percent of scoring from a year ago, 48.3 percent of its made field goals, and 45.7 percent of its rebounding, following the graduation of All-SEC forward Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks with 15.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and 150 made field goals last season.
> Three who started the majority of the SEC campaign return for the Gamecocks, including sophomore guard AJ Lawson (14.0 points per league game), sophomore forward Keyshawn Bryant (8.8 ppg) and senior forward Maik Kotsar (5.9 ppg).
> Eight Gamecocks were honored last spring for their outstanding work in the classroom with SEC All-Academic accolades, and senior forward Maik Kotsar was named to the NABC Honors Court, as well.

> South Carolina continues its lengthy homestand to begin the 2019-20 campaign when it hosts Wyoming on Sunday for a Noon tipoff. Roy Philpott (play-by-play) and Mark Wise (analyst) will have the call for the SEC Network televison broadcast from Colonial Life Arena.

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