The Gamecocks got SEC play started right with an 80-71 victory at the Auburn Tigers. This game was neck and neck in the first half. The 'Cocks came out strong in the second, though, building leads they would only give up once--a 52-52 tie around the 10 minute mark--before pulling away late. Devan Downey had a huge night for the 'Cocks with 33 points, while center Brendan Knox led the Tigers with 22 on 9 for 11 shooting.
Thoughts on the game:
This seems to be a better team since the Baylor loss. Darrin Horn decided to go with smaller lineups after the loss to the Bears, and so far it seems to be paying off. That's a good sign, although it's obviously important to recognize that Longwood and Auburn aren't the teams to make us pay for the strategy. That Auburn C Knox scored so many against us today should tell you a little bit about what can happen when you lack size.
We're shooting the ball better. We're doing a much better job of patiently moving the ball around to find open shots, and while we were a bit cold early on, we started hitting shots late. Our decisive run late in the game was fueled by threes from Downey and Brandis Raley-Ross. Continuing to do this will be key going forward.
Our big men played well. Aside from not containing Knox at times, our big men did what they needed to do to help us win today. Sam Muldrow was great as usual, and Austin Steed stepped up off the bench to grab five offensive boards and score 10. Both proved me wrong today; I've been decrying Muldrow shooting threes, on which he went 2-3 today, and saying that Steed will take a backseat to Jhondre Jefferson in the rotation. I was wrong on both counts, today at least. I'm happy to be wrong in this case, though: keep it up, guys.
Downey played like a leader today. Midway through the second half, Downey was at about 5-15 from the field. Then, as is his wont, Downey took over the game, scoring most of his 33 in the final 10 minutes. Certainly, our improved outside shooting did and will continue to help him get the opportunities he wants. It's still worth noting, though, that as much as we're focusing on other issues right now--the loss of key players, young players stepping up, etc.--this team still runs through Downey, and he yet again made the difference today.
Auburn is a bad team, but this win is still very important. We really probably shouldn't make too much out of this one. Auburn is probably the worst team in the league. I was continually shocked by their inability to put themselves in a position to win this game, whether it was by missing layups after they broke our press or by their dismal percentage from the charity stripe. Still, this Gamecocks team needs every win it can get, especially on the road, where before today it had yet to win a game. This win gives me confidence, at least, that losing Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes isn't going to spell an absolutely dismal season for the 'Cocks. The verdict is still out on whether or not we can make a run to a winning conference record, though.
That's a wrap on this one. Next up is LSU, a team that should provide us with a slightly tougher test than Auburn.