The theme is familiar. The fight, resolve and toughness again showed in the South Carolina basketball team. The Gamecocks overcame a 16-point second-half deficit to tie the game late but didn’t have enough at the finish in a 79-74 loss to Auburn on Wednesday night.
It’s the sixth time in eight SEC losses that USC has lost by fewer than eight points, including the past two games when they had ample opportunities to pull out victories.
The common theme among the loses have been the same – few contributions from the front line, poor free-throw shooting and execution when the game is on the line.
“Tough loss. Once again, missed free throws, you can’t shoot 59 percent from the line and win an SEC game,” USC coach Frank Martin said.
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Auburn won for the third game in a row after opening conference play with six consecutive losses. This was the Tigers’ first road win of the season and their 13th SEC win over the past three seasons, with four coming against USC.
The Gamecocks are saying all the right things but it’s evident the disappointment of losing another close game is starting to wear on the team.
“Disappointment does start to set in after a while because this is the (sixth 8-point loss) we’ve had in the conference,” USC senior Brenton Williams said. “But we have to get ready for the next game. We can’t get mad at one game and carry it into the next game.”
The defensive lapses by the post players proved critical. South Carolina freshmen Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice were tasked with the job of guarding Auburn’s high-scoring duo of upperclassmen Chris Denson and KT Harrell. They did all the could but got little help. Denson and Harrell torched the Gamecocks for 50 points, 25 by each player and continuously got into the teeth of the USC defense without much trouble.
That kind of help defense caused Martin great frustration.
“Sindarius and Duane had their hands full with their defensive assignments,” Martin said. “They tried against two very, very good players. Our game plan going in is, we knew they were going at those two guys. They don’t settle, they attack you. You are asking two freshmen to guard two fourth-year guys, and our help-side defense was atrocious, embarrassing. The three guys that weren’t guarding those two players never helped. We don’t block shots, we don’t take charges and we don’t get defensive rebounds.”
Auburn (11-9, 3-6) made 9 of its first 11 shots in the second half to build a 60-44 lead with 13:20 remaining. But Williams, who led all scorers with 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers, spearheaded an 18-2 run that helped tie the game at 62 with 7:50 remaining.
Williams scored 12 points during the run but made one basket, a 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining, the rest of the way.
“He can’t wait until we’re down 15 to become aggressive offensively,” Martin said of Williams. “He passed up some open looks. He’s putting the ball in the basket, he just scored 29. He needs to be programmed that he can do that. He can’t pass up opportunities to be aggressive.”
Williams pointed to the start of the the second half and falling behind by 16 points as the Gamecocks (8-14, 1-8) downfall.
“It was another close one we let get away from us,” Williams said. “There was a four-or-five minute stretch in the second half where we couldn’t get a stop and Auburn kept attacking us to the basket and drawing fouls on our bigs. That was the game.”
South Carolina now goes on the road to face Tennessee, a team they’ve lost to 12 times in a row and have not defeated since 2007.
Payne 4-8 0-1 9, Dixon-Tatum 0-1 2-2 2, Harrell 9-18 6-6 25, Denson 8-12 6-9 25, Shamsid-Deen 5-9 2-2 12, Wade 0-2 0-0 0, Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Canada 1-1 0-0 2, Granger 2-2 0-0 4, Atewe 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 16-20 79.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-14)
Henry 3-4 0-1 6, Carrera 1-5 3-6 5, Thornwell 3-16 2-2 8, Williams 10-14 3-3 29, Notice 4-10 3-7 12, Shaw 0-0 0-0 0, Chatkevicius 0-0 0-0 0, McKie 0-1 0-0 0, Kacinas 6-9 2-3 14, Ringer 0-0 0-0 0, Steele 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-61 13-22 74.
Halftime_Auburn 38-35. 3-Point Goals_Auburn 5-16 (Denson 3-4, Payne 1-1, Harrell 1-6, Wade 0-2, Shamsid-Deen 0-3), South Carolina 7-17 (Williams 6-10, Notice 1-2, McKie 0-1, Thornwell 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Auburn 32 (Payne 9), South Carolina 31 (Carrera 8). Assists_Auburn 16 (Harrell 6), South Carolina 17 (Thornwell 9). Total Fouls_Auburn 20, South Carolina 17. Attendance_8,581.