AMHERST, Mass. (AP) — A.J. Lawson scored 24 points, Jermaine Couisnard added 16 and six assists and South Carolina held off Massachusetts 84-80 in its first true road game of the season on Wednesday night.
South Carolina (6-3) won five of its first six in Columbia, S.C., but lost both neutral site games in the Cancun Challenge in late November before returning home to beat George Washington 74-65 on Sunday.
Keyshawn Bryant contributed 13 points while Gamecocks senior Malik Kotsar grabbed nine rebounds and scored nine points, ending his career-best run of double-figure scoring games at five.
Tre Mitchell led the Minutemen with 17 points, Sean East II had 16 and T.J. Weeks 15. Carl Pierre added 15 points and nine rebounds.
UMass (5-4) lost its fourth in a row after opening the season with five straight wins. The Minutemen haven’t beaten a Southeastern Conference opponent since a 72-62 victory over Georgia on Dec. 16, 2017.
Minutemen leading scorer Weeks, who entered averaging 15.5 points per game, was held to four in the second half after scoring 11 in the first.
UMass shot 46.9% (23 of 49) against a South Carolina defense that was ranked 22nd in opponent field goal percentage (36.6 percent) coming in.
After recovering from a slow start to lead 39-35 at halftime, the Gamecocks struggled to separate from the Minutemen for most of period two.
Sy Chatman’s layup with 13:53 remaining capped a 7-0 run to give UMass its last lead at 50-47 before Jalyn McCreary’s jumper and four straight points from Couisnard restored South Carolina’s lead.
Samba Diallo’s 3-pointer for UMass tied the game at 61 with 8:44 left before a Lawson layup at 8:29 gave the Gamecocks the lead for good. Lawson’s trey with 2:40 to play capped a 17-6 surge to push the lead to 11.
UMass responded with a 13-4 run to pull within two on Pierre’s desperation 3 with 6.2 seconds left, but Lawson hit both free throws to seal it.
The Gamecocks led by four after closing the first half on a 31-19 run.
Weeks scored eight of UMass’ first 16 as the Minutemen built an early eight-point lead. The Gamecocks looked out of rhythm early with Lawson’s missed 3 and turnovers on three of their first four possessions.
Lawson’s floater capped a 10-0 run to give South Carolina its first lead at 20-19 with 6:37 left in the first. He scored eight straight over a three-minute span and all but two of his 13 first-half points in the final 8:15 of the period.
It was the third-ever meeting between South Carolina and UMass and the first in Amherst.
South Carolina: With their first road win out of the way, the Gamecocks should have some confidence in playing two of their next four on the road — including a Dec. 22 contest against No. 5 Virginia. All four games will be non-conference affairs before South Carolina hosts Florida in its SEC opener on Jan. 7.
UMass: Nothing has gone right since everything went right to start the season for the Minutemen. UMass was denied its second 5-0 start at home in the last three seasons and has four non-conference opportunities remaining before opening its Atlantic 10 schedule at St. Louis on Jan. 5.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks return home to face Houston on Sunday at noon.
UMass: The Minutemen visit cross-state foe Harvard on Saturday afternoon.