MIAMI — Chris Silva is one of few key holdovers from last year’s Final Four team and looks to be the focal point for South Carolina this year.
Silva scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead South Carolina to a 78-61 win over FIU on Monday night.
“For us to be a good team, he has to become that focal guy for us offensively and he wants that so it’s my job to help him get there,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
Silva scored 15 points in the first half and 11 more in the second.
“I think Silva took over in the second half,” FIU coach Anthony Grant said. “That kid is a pro so he did the things they needed him to do to finish the game.”
Silva made 10 of 13 shots from the field including three dunks. It was his third double-digit rebounding game of the season.
“I wasn’t paying attention to my performance,” Silva said. “I was just trying to play hard and as the game was getting harder, I was getting more locked in and the guys were doing a good job of passing the ball in the post. I was just trying to get what I got.”
Maik Kotsar scored 16 points, Justin Minaya added 13, Frank Booker chipped in 12, and Hassani Gravett had seven points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists for South Carolina (5-1).
“Our experienced players, Chris, Maik, and Hassani came out here and led us and they performed, competed, and helped us get a win,” Martin said.
Martin faced his alma mater for the first time on the road as a head coach and in his hometown.
“I spent a lot of time in Little Havana, just spending time in areas that raised me, made me, and then I got to the hotel after practice–we probably 45 had people watching practice–and we had a slew of former players, people I played with, grew up with, guys I coached, guys that coached with me, just hanging out in the hotel lobby,” Martin said. “And then to come in here today for shootaround and be somewhere where this university believed in me. This university took a chance on a kid like me that they didn’t have to and help me. Because of them I get to do what I do for a living now and to be back and to be able to coach a game in my city in front of so many friends and family, it’s been a powerful 48 hours for me.”
After hitting a 3 to give the Gamecocks a 38-36 lead going into the break after a wild first half, Booker picked up where he left off, hitting three 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to give South Carolina a 57-38 lead.
Booker’s 3 were part of a pivotal 15-0 run that helped lift the Gamecocks to the win.
“He can shoot the ball now,” Martin said. “He had three straight days where he didn’t miss too many in practice.”
FIU (2-4) cut the deficit to 10 points at 68-58 with six minutes left in the game, but were unable to get within single digits.
FIU was led by Eric Lockett’s 21 points.
Both teams played an entertaining first half with each taking a turn at a big run.
South Carolina opened with a 9-0 run capped by an emphatic breakaway dunk by Silva. The Gamecocks’ fast start continued, making 9 of their first 11 shots to build a 20-4 lead.
Then, the Golden Panthers went on its run erasing the 16-point deficit with a 27-3 run over the next 8:41.
“I thought we were playing with good energy,” Grant said. “I thought we were defending. In order for us to score consistently, we’ve got to get stops and we got out in transition. We didn’t have to play against their half-court defense the whole time so I thought that gave us a lot of energy and helped boost our score.”
Trejon Jacob sparked FIU by scoring seven straight points with a layup, a long 3, and a two-handed dunk to cut the deficit to 20-11.
FIU continued its surge and took a 23-22 lead following a 4-point play by Brian Beard Jr. with 8:04 left in the first half. Moments later, Beard Jr. drilled another 3 for a 29-23 advantage.
South Carolina trailed 31-23 before Silva ended the run with a basket.
The Gamecocks committed 12 turnovers and made 1 of 9 shots from the field during the run.
“Unfortunately our bench, which is made up of a bunch of young guys, did not, and they have been great all year, help us today,” Martin said. “Every time I went to the bench we got lackadaisical basketball, which gave them life and gave them runs.”
South Carolina: Booker is proving to be a solid addition to the team after averaging 5.7 points a game at FAU last season. The 6-foot-3 senior has made a team-high 17 3-pointers through six games and is shooting 40.5 percent from behind the arc.
FIU: The Golden Panthers will look to build on their impressive 27-3 run in the first half behind their trio of guards as they will be looking for their first win over a Division I school.
South Carolina travels to New York to face Temple at Madison Square Garden on Thursday as part of the Under Armour Reunion doubleheader.
FIU will host Florida National on Wednesday, a school they lost a trademark infringement lawsuit against two years ago in regards to the school’s abbreviations (FIU and FNU) being similar.