COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Maik Kotsar is confident, and South Carolina loves it.
The senior forward and four-year starter was in double figures for the fifth straight game on Sunday, leading the Gamecocks to a 74-65 win over George Washington.
South Carolina (5-3) broke a two-game losing streak after Kotsar scored a team-high 17 points, with nine rebounds, two blocks and a rare slam dunk.
“There were moments last year that I didn’t know how to help him,” coach Frank Martin said. “He was great defensively but would shrink on offense.”
The only returning player from South Carolina’s 2016-17 Final Four team, Kotsar was often lost inside his own head last year. One missed shot would turn into 30 missed shots.
“As a senior, I feel like I need to be there for the team every night,” Kotsar said. “I’m feeling more confident, the guys are helping me out with that, like whenever I miss a shot, they’re still there to support me.”
Kotsar, despite his 6-foot-11 height, often doesn’t dunk, preferring a soft layup. But he’s done it twice this year, putting the Colonials (3-5) to bed with a steal and breakaway with less than a minute to go.
“We look to Maik as our leader, on and off the court. When he’s playing well, it kind of sets the tone for the whole team,” said Jair Bolden, who scored 12 points. “I’d give (his dunk) an 8. He can do better. But definitely a passing grade.”
The Gamecocks also received 14 points from A.J. Lawson and 12 from Jermaine Couisnard, surviving a 12-turnover performance that led to 14 George Washington points. The Colonials scored the game's first basket, but South Carolina had the next 17 points, digging a hole too deep for George Washington to get out of.
Yet the Colonials never went away with Jamison Battle splashing six 3-pointers as the Gamecocks constantly lost him on switches. But Kotsar, who only missed one of his nine field-goal attempts, was always there for a tender hook shot.