COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — AJ Lawson scored 25 points and made two clinching free throws in the closing seconds as South Carolina held off Florida A&M 78-71 on Saturday, as the Gamecocks played for the first time in 28 days.
The COVID-19 issues that befell the South Carolina (2-2) program ever since Dec. 5 were still in evidence as the team had just nine players available. Jermaine Couisnard added 15 points, five assists and four steals, Justin Minaya picked up his first double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Justin Speer scored 14 of his career-high 21 points in the second half, hitting four straight from the floor as Florida A&M (1-6) rallied from seven points down into a late lead. Kamron Reaves chipped in 11 points, M.J. Randolph added 10 and D.J. Jones 10. The Rattlers had been idle since Dec. 18.
Lawson scored seven points in the first nine minutes after halftime, including a pair of fast-break dunks off of his own steals, but South Carolina was unable to shake the Rattlers. There were five ties and four lead changes in the second half.
After the Gamecocks took their largest lead, 57-50, Speer scored eight unanswered points to put Florida A&M ahead for the first time since the 5:37 mark of the first half.
Lawson drained a 3-pointer off the break to muscle South Carolina back in front 68-66, and then blocked Randolph at 3:30 to protect a 71-69 lead.
The win was South Carolina’s first at home this season and 20th straight win in a home opener. Florida A&M has not played a home game yet this season.
South Carolina opens Southeast Conference play hosting Texas A&M on Wednesday.
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