If there is one element that has kept the Gamecocks from being a real factor in the Ohio Valley Conference it has been a consistent and balanced post presence.
They’d have some defenders who didn’t score and scorers who struggled defensively. They got all of the above in their first exhibition Thursday night and it carried them to an easy 65-52 victory over Division II West Georgia.
Their four post players combined for 33 points, 23 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“We needed a solid big, somebody to go ahead and guard bigger post players, rebound better,” said Cook, a 6-6 senior forward. We never had that, since I’ve been here.
“The paper didn’t look good today, but as the season goes along I really think that’s going to show up in our game. We’ve got somebody who can help me out. I’m glad for the addition. I just feel were going to have a better rebounding game and defense, too.”
The combination of Cook and JUCO transfer Jamal Hunter was particularly strong.
Hunter, playing in his first Division I game, had 10 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and disrupted a lot more. Cook had nine points, five boards, a block and two steals.
Another inside newcomer, D.J. Felder, had nine points and seven rebounds.
“I tell them every day we’re going to be a good combo in the OVC; I already see it,” Cook said. “I just feel like we’re going to block more shots, rebound better and score better.
“We’ll be able to put points on the board in the paint and I don’t think that’s something we ever had. We won’t have to rely on the 3 so much this year.”
The prospect of a stronger inside presence will allow the Gamecocks to finally play to coach James Green’s inside-out approach instead of the open offense they had to play without a reliable guy to dump it into.
That, in turn, should make their perimeter players even better. Darion Rackley took care of the outside part of it Thursday with a game-high 15 points. Preseason All-OVC guard Brian Williams added six points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Hunter knew the Gamecocks were in the market for somebody to work alongside Cook and that’s the reason he signed here. He said his first Division I experience went just the way he thought it would and predicted with the “good combination” of he and Cook, the Gamecocks will be “pretty good inside.”
Green believes they have a chance to be among the strongest groups in the league.
“There are some guys who are pretty good,” he said. “SEMO has a nice group of bigs, but it puts us in the middle of the pack or above in terms of how we compete in the post.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.