How Zach Davis emerged as a valuable addition to South Carolina’s starting lineup

Almost everything South Carolina basketball coach Lamont Paris has asked Zach Davis to do, the guard’s been up to the challenge.

Need someone to guard a 7-foot guard without fouling in the waning possessions? Ask Davis. Need more rebounds? Ask Davis. Need someone to fill a starting spot? Ask Davis.

It doesn’t seem like there’s much that Davis says “no” to this season. Nor does he want to.

Paris has praised the sophomore guard for his defense. Davis’ ability to help slow down fast-pace offenses like Kentucky and Tennessee proved to be significant in those marquee wins earlier this year. Those were also games Davis started while junior Myles Stute was returning from a shoulder strain.

But once Stute made his return, Paris kept Davis in as a starter.

“He’s such a talent and a good player,” Paris said on Saturday after USC swept Ole Miss. “And his future is so bright, I’m telling you.”

Davis is one of a handful of players who has the chance to fully develop under the second year head coach, after playing 30 games as a freshman year. He’s one of two sophomores on the roster this year, the other being Eli Sparkman. He hasn’t shied away from the pressure-filled situations Paris has put him in.

“Zack came out of the gates, I thought he was unbelievable with his energy defensively,” Paris said. “He was trying really hard and in a very disciplined manner. It’s hard to do that. It’s hard to be Speedy Gonzalez, and then also be slow Paul Rodriguez, in your mind, you know?”

Since the start of conference play, Davis has also steadily improved his offense. He’s had three games with at least 10 points, including a career-high 14 points in Saturday’s game.

Davis is also still learning. He’s made a few errors here and there, and picked up an unnecessary foul. That’s where Paris’ teaching comes in, and he’s enjoyed working with Davis.

“My favorite thing I do, I like it more than anything, is two things,” Paris said, “my relationship with our guys, that’s first, and then the teaching that goes on.”

It’s also where Davis can lean on his older teammates, including after taking a hit to the head dealt by Ole Miss’ Allen Flanigan that same game. The call was ruled a Flagrant 2 and Flanigan was ejected, but it caused Davis’ temper to flare up. BJ Mack was ready to step in and let Davis refocus, but the guard knew that he had to move on as well.

“We’re on the biggest stage in college basketball and you can’t act on your emotions in front of everybody,” Davis told The Big Spur after the game. “You have to calm down and get your head straight. I’m thankful my coaches and teammates talked to me, got my head straight and just went back out there and did what I had to do.”

Paris knew keeping Davis in the starting lineup at the start of February was the best decision for the second half of conference play. When it was time for Stute to return from his injury in January, he knew it, too.

USC’s head coach still praised Stute’s maturity, but made it clear: Davis earned his new role. The two are different players, and Paris knew how to use their talents to USC’s advantage moving forward.

“I think defensively, starting the game, Zach does some things defensively that are different from what Myles does and it helps us,” Paris said following USC’s first win over Ole Miss on Feb. 6. “When Myles comes in, we’re subbing in a high level of offense as maybe the other team is making some changes and bringing in their second tier that may not be as good.”

Paris’ comments on Davis’ defense mirrored what he needed the guard to do in USC’s 72-59 win against Ole Miss on Saturday. Even though Stute didn’t play in that game, Davis filled in for the “high level of offense” Paris referred to.

Paris asked Davis to step up, and it’s working.

Next four games

  • Feb. 28 at Texas A&M, 8:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

  • March 2 vs. Florida, noon (ESPN)

  • March 6 vs. Tennessee, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • March 9 at Mississippi State, 2:30 p.m. (SEC Network)