COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — AJ Lawson had a career-high 28 points and South Carolina opened the second half with an 18-2 burst to roll past Cleveland State 90-63 on Friday night.
Lawson, the team’s top returning scorer from last season, had a 3-pointer and a three-point play in the first two minutes of the second half as the Gamecocks opened 3-0 for the first time since their Final Four season of 2016-17.
Cleveland State (1-3) hung tough for a half, rallying from 17 points down the firsts 20 minutes to trail just 45-40 at the break. But the Vikings of the Horizon League could not contain their larger, quicker opponents and fell to 2-7 all-time against Southeastern Conference teams.
Alanzo Frink had the first double-double of his career with 11 points and 10 rebounds, both career-bests for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina seemed to have this locked up early, taking a 33-16 lead on TJ Moss’s 3-pointer with 10:16 left in the opening half. But the Vikings rallied and outscored the Gamecocks 24-8 the rest of the period.
Cleveland State played smart and efficient in the opening half, steadily moving the ball around and waiting for the open shot. The Vikings made 14 of 25 attempts (56%) and clawed their way back in it despite 12 turnovers in the period.
Tre Gomillion led Cleveland State with 18 points while Algevon Eichelberger had 13, all but two coming in the first half.
The Gamecocks built their large lead from the outside as Jermaine Couisnard and Jair Bolden and Moss combined for four 3-pointers in a 17-4 run midway through opening half. But they missed their final six shots from behind the arc the rest of the half.
Lawson, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, surpassed his previous best of 25 points set against Coastal Carolina last November.
Maik Kotsar, a senior who played on the Final Four team, had a career high 12 rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Cleveland State: The Vikings have a difficult road to start the season. They’ve lost at Minnesota, Missouri State and South Carolina and next play a four-team tournament in Washington D.C.
South Carolina: Gamecocks coach Frank Martin must’ve had a rousing halftime speech with the effect it had on his players. South Carolina outscored Cleveland State 35-14 the first 15 minutes and played with an intensity throughout the period.
Cleveland State plays Florida International on Tuesday night in Washington D.C. as part of the Battle For The Capital event.
South Carolina plays the fourth of five straight home games to start the season when it meets Boston U on Tuesday night.