South Carolina State men’s tennis team fell 4-0 at eighth-ranked South Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“It was a competitive match,” SC State head coach Hardeep Judge said. “I told the team I was proud of the way they performed. USC is a team that was as high as No. 2 in the country this season, and we played really well.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to grab an early point after building leads in two of the three doubles matches.
“That double’s point was really big, we were up in No. 2 doubles and had a 3-2 lead with a break in No. 3 doubles,” Judge said. “We got nervous and lost four games in a row. Both of those guys are freshmen, so that’s going to happen, but I thought that was the key.”
In singles, SC State’s Novak Novakovic won his first set against Connor Thomson, and was tied when the match was abandoned. Mikalai Bankou dropped his first set but led 4-1 when his match was abandoned. South Carolina won three singles points from No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6.
“We started well (in singles), but you could tell (USC) was physically stronger than we were,” Judge said. “They did not take us for granted, they played at a higher level on key points. I told our guys, if they work hard, next year at this time we can compete with this team or teams like this.”
With a roster littered with freshmen and sophomores, Judge hopes this NCAA experience will continue to help develop a program that finds itself in the postseason nearly every year.
“We’re very close,” Judge said. “We lost some matches (against non-conference opponents) due to injury, but we are better. Our No. 1 (Aissa Benchakroun) is so much better because he’s put in the work. We can move on from here and continue to grow.
] We can be a powerhouse in tennis, and when we’re healthy, we are already one of the better teams in the state. I think people saw that today.”
May 5, 2023 • Columbia, S.C. • Carolina Tennis Center
#8 South Carolina (20-6) 4, South Carolina State (10-10) 0
1. #10 Toby Samuel (USC) vs. Aissa Benchakroun (SCSU), 7-5, 3-2 susp.
2. #16 Connor Thomson (USC) vs. Novak Novakovic (SCSU), 2-6, 6-1, 1-1 susp.
3. #116 James Story (USC) vs. Mikalai Bankou (SCSU), 5-7, 4-1 susp.
4. #122 Raphael Lambling (USC) def. Rostislav Haflinger (SCSU), 6-4, 6-2
5. #102 Casey Hoole (USC) def. Benjamin Niv (SCSU), 6-2, 6-3
6. Lucas da Silva (USC) def. Pedro Sasso (SCSU), 6-2, 6-0
Order of Finish: 6, 5, 4
1. #1 Samuel/Thomson (USC) def. Benchakroun/Niv (SCSU), 6-2
2. #48 Jake Beasley/Story (USC) vs. Haflinger/Sasso (SCSU), 4-5 susp.
3. Hoole/Lambling (USC) def. Bankou/Novakovic (SCSU), 6-3
Order of Finish: 1, 3