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Mississippi St South Carolina Basketball

South Carolina forward Chris Silva (30) communicates with teammates during the first half against No. 14 Mississippi State Tuesday night in Columbia. Maik Kotsar scored a career-high 25 points and had nine rebounds to lead South Carolina to an 87-82 overtime upset to run its record to 7-7 and 2-0 in the SEC. Freshman A.J. Lawson sealed the win when he stole the ball from Nick Weatherspoon at midcourt and finished with an emphatic dunk with 13 seconds left in overtime. Silva had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the win.

COLUMBIA – Chris Silva’s senior year wasn’t going as it was expected to a month into the season.

The Gamecocks were 4-3 with home losses to Stony Brook and Wofford.

Silva, who had preseason All-SEC honors by his name, was sputtering to start what should have been a breakout season for the conference’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

CAROLINA BASKETBALL: Silva's late dunk lifts South Carolina over Florida 71-69

Things were supposed to be different this year, and seven games in, they weren’t.

That was until his head coach sat him down, took the blame for the forward’s poor play and, since then, it’s back to the high-flying, obscenely athletic Silva that fans have come to know.

“I told Chris, ‘I messed this up. We’re going to hit stop and we’re going to start again,'" Frank Martin said. “Then I told the whole team that, to give Chris some credibility (and admit) that I screwed this whole thing up. I think he respected that and the players respected that.

"He’s really playing well right now; he’s playing at a high, high level again.”

The second half of this young season has been almost a 180-degree turn for the senior who chose to come back for one more season after testing the NBA draft waters over the summer.

Lawson's 22 lift South Carolina to 97-46 win over Crusaders

Over his last seven games — which involve two SEC wins, including a home upset over No. 14 Mississippi State Tuesday night — Silva has scored in double figures each time and is averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.

He has an average offensive rating of 111.3 and is shooting 50 percent from inside the three-point line and 47.9 overall from the field.

That’s compared to averaging 10.1 points and 5.7 rebounds to start the year, while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from two-point range.

The biggest reason for the mental block, Martin said, was him putting too much pressure on Silva to do things the senior wasn’t comfortable doing after seeing three years of exponential growth since the young man came to South Carolina.

“In reality, he had improved so much it was time for it to settle down for a second," Martin said. "I was trying to get him to keep going, but he wasn’t comfortable to keep going. That created confusion for him, and I started pressing him to do more. I finally realized, ‘Frank, you’re not helping him.’ Because he’s not doing the things he’s really good at.

“He’s not doing those things because I got him spooked.”

And with Silva’s resurgence, the Gamecocks are starting to come along as well. Since losing to Clemson, they’re winners of three straight games and are one of just five unbeaten teams in SEC play so far.

Now that Silva’s chiseled himself into a role he’s vastly more comfortable in, it’s put him in a position to lead better, a situation Martin compares to that of former Gamecock Michael Carrera.

“Guys don’t want to hear you yelling if you don’t do your job. It didn’t click for (Carrera) until the second half of his junior year and then the monster (impact) of his senior year. Now you can lead. Now if you talk, I’ll shut up and let you tell the players what to do," Martin said. "Chris has gotten to that. Maik (Kotsar) has been real good with that; Maik, in the last three or four weeks, he’s taken a big step forward there. Hassani (Gravett), believe it or not, has been really good at that. Those three guys that I was really hard on last year to lead and they weren’t ready, all three have taken big steps in that direction.”

For Gravett and Kotsar, Martin spent the better part of last season and into this recent preseason challenging those two, along with Silva, to become more vocal leaders on the team.

Martin senses that’s happening, and it’s a challenge the players are welcoming with open arms.

“That’s the role we’ve taken as upperclassmen. It’s our job to lead these guys, keep their heads composed in tough situations and adversity,” Gravett said. “That’s our job: to keep this team settled down.”

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Collyn Taylor reports for GamecockCentral.com, the Rivals affiliate devoted to USC athletics.

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