Auburn bases its entire offense on two players - KT Harrell and Chris Denson. And on Wednesday night, KT Harrell and Chris Denson provided almost all of their offense, combining for 50 points and leading the Auburn Tigers to a 79-74 win over South Carolina, dropping the Gamecocks to 1-8 in conference and beating the Gamecocks in what represented perhaps their easiest SEC game on the schedule.
Brenton Williams shot the lights out in vain, going 10-14 (6-10 from 3) for 29 points, while Mindaugas Kacinas scored 14 points in his best scoring outing of the season. But the Gamecocks simply couldn't stop Auburn enough defensively, allowing the Tigers to shoot 62% from 2 and rebound over 40% of their misses. Despite the uptick in forced turnovers in the second half, outside of a huge run, South Carolina simply couldn't stop the Tigers often enough, giving up 1.17 points per possession, over 0.1 points more than Auburn's posted on the road the entire season.
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The Gamecocks spent the first half missing opportunities to take a lead, and ultimately entered the half down 3 points, 38-35. Carolina got stomped by Auburn on the offensive glass, a surprise given the Tigers don't particularly excel at grabbing offensive rebounds, with Auburn beating them on the glass on that side of the court 9-8 (Auburn also out-rebounded Carolina on the other end, 10-7). The Gamecocks only forced 4 turnovers and also missed 6 of their 14 free throw attempts, and were somewhat fortunate to only be down 3 after the first 20 minutes.
Auburn blitzed the Gamecocks in the second half, jumping out to a 60-44 lead at one point as South Carolina simply could not stop the Tigers offense. The Gamecocks rebounded at the 14 minute mark through a 18-2 run to erase the Auburn lead over the course of 7 minutes. The Tigers immediately re-took the lead with a runner in the lane and maintained a slight advantage until the under 4 media timeout, despite KT Harrell and Chris Denson carrying four fouls apiece for most of the last 7 minutes.
The loss represents another frustrating close loss for South Carolina, and may leave fans wondering if this team can get over the hump. While there's no reason to think that the Gamecocks suffer some sort of mental barrier to grabbing close wins, the stories will continue until they can get over the hump.
They won't have an easy time of it in their next outing, as they head to Knoxville for a 3pm match-up against the Volunteers, who are coming off a four-point loss to rival Vanderbilt in Nashville on Wednesday night. That dropped the Vols to 5-4 in conference, although still with a good chance of making the NCAA tournament at the end of the season. South Carolina continues to come out and play hard despite the tough losses. It needs to continue to do so, or else they'll have a tough afternoon in Thompson-Bolling Arena.