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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Freshman Rakym Felder is starting to feel more comfortable in South Carolina's offense. He showed that Tuesday night against Lander.
Felder scored a career-high 20 points and hit five first-half 3-pointers as the Gamecocks opened a 30-point lead and rolled past the Division II Bearcats 90-62. For Felder, it was a breakout performance in a first season that had been blotched by an assault arrest in October that saw him miss the season's first game and see any significant action until December.
But Felder was on target for South Carolina (10-2), which took a 29-3 lead at the start and never looked back.
"My confidence is coming along with my teammates encouraging me," he said. "Just getting repetition in practice is making me more comfortable."
Maik Kotsar, a 6-foot-10 freshman, had his first double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Gamecocks. It was a welcome result for South Carolina, which fell out of the rankings this week by losing two of its last three including a hard-fought, 62-60 loss at home to rival Clemson last Wednesday night.
Felder surpassed his previous best of 11, set two games ago in a win at South Florida. P.J. Dozier scored 15 points for the Gamecocks, which ended a run of five straight games with 20 points or more.
JR Washington led Lander with 16 points, his 47th straight time he's scored double figures in games he's played.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin has scheduled in-state Division II opponents each of the previous two years — the Gamecocks defeated Coker in 2014-15 and Francis Marion 2015-16 by a combined 48 points — believing it important to promote the game at all levels. If it costs South Carolina in the eyes of some fans and analysts, so be it, Martin says, because his team plays plenty of Power Five opponents in and out of the Southeastern Conference to prove its worth.
"Give the check to the (in state) team that helps them run their program better," Martin said. "This continues to open doors."
Lander received $20,000 for its trip.
THE BIG PICTURE
Lander: The Bearcats won 22 games, took the Peach Belt Conference tournament and made the NCAA Division II Tournament. But they had little chance of staying with South Carolina. Lander's tallest player was 6-foot-8 Srdjan Ivic, who had three fouls by halftime and was not a factor against South Carolina's front line. Count on Lander to contend, but in the Peach Belt, not the SEC.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were in need of a win, no matter how big of a mismatch it was. South Carolina started the season 8-0 and rose to No. 16 in the Top 25, but has lost two of its past three games. This one gave coach Frank Martin a chance to play most of his lineup and see favorable results. Nine of 10 Gamecocks who played in the opening half scored.
MAKING THE PITCH
Lander coach Steve Roberts said he was at a charity golf outing with South Carolina's Frank Martin when he asked if the Bearcats could take on his team. "He was putting on one hole and I was trying to find my ball in the woods on another," Roberts said.
Martin agreed to the game. Roberts said besides the guarantee, the eight South Carolina natives on his roster get to play at the state's premiere arena. "We get a lot out of it," Roberts said.
HALF A LOAF
South Carolina's Frank Martin loves his team's opening half. The second? Not so much. Martin said his older Gamecocks, outscored 46-37 the final 20 minutes, have not always played with the maturity to continue playing up to the standards expected for a whole game.
Lander returns back to Division II for a home game with Limestone on Thursday night.
South Carolina travels to Memphis on Friday night for its last game before starting Southeastern Conference play.
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