By LARRY VAUGHT
When South Carolina coach Frank Martin needed some “toughness” for his team much like what Kentucky coach John Calipari has been seeking, Martin got it from an unusual source.
He added South Carolina football player Evan Hinson, a tight end who played mainly on special teams for the Outback Bowl team, for SEC play and the Gamecocks have been better since then. He had six points and two rebounds in his first start during a win over Vanderbilt and had a season-best eight points in 19 minutes in Saturday’s win at Georgia.
South Carolina will host Kentucky Tuesday night.
“Evan gave us what we needed with some toughness baskets from the perimeter, which we had not been getting,” Martin said after the Vanderbilt win.
The 6-4, 240-pound Hinson, a Florida native, was a standout high school basketball player just like many players on coach Mark Stoops’ football team at Kentucky.
“He just came from football and the energy he still has, he gives the team a lot of energy,” junior forward Chris Silva said about Hinson. “His spirit, every time he steps on the court he makes something happen.”
Hinson seems made to play for Martin, who took South Carolina to the Final Four last year.
“He brings an aggression – there’s no other way to word it – that you only get when you put the chin strap on,” Martin said. “I always had football guys on my high school teams – always – because they bring an aggression that you have to have. And he brings that. He brings a certain level of toughness.”
South Carolina needed that at Georgia when it shot just 27 percent from the field yet managed to win its second SEC game. South Carolina was just 6-for-26 from the field the second half and had two stretches of four-plus minutes without a made field goal.
Frank Booker led Carolina with 17 points and Silva added 14 points, nine rebounds and a career-high four assists. He also had two blocked shots.
“They’re very disruptive in how they play, and they’ve done that for several years in a row,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “They’re very physical, and they are a hard team to pass and catch against, and you end up dribbling the ball a lot. This is a game where your guards have to make plays off the bounce, and we didn’t make enough of those.”
One worrisome note for UK: South Carolina had a season-high 18 offensive rebounds, including 13 in the first half.
“I hope that gives us a little swagger,” Martin said after the Georgia win. “That’s how South Carolina plays basketball.”