Sullivan And Defense Spark Auburn's Victory

Tony Barbee's Tigers ran past last season's win total as they defeated South Carolina 63-52. The report includes comments with Auburn players and a video featuring Barbee's postgame take on his team's play.

Auburn, Ala.--Senior forward Kenny Gabriel said that when Frankie Sullivan is playing well the Auburn Tigers tend to play well.

Both things happened on Saturday at the Auburn Arena as Sullivan's 22 points and Gabriel's 16 points plus seven rebounds sparked the Tigers to a 63-52 SEC basketball victory.

Auburn improved its record to 12-7 overall, surpassing last season's victory total of 11. The Tigers improved to 2-3 in the league.

South Carolina fell to 8-10 overall and dropped to 0-4 in the league.

Auburn trailed by four points at halftime, but took control of the contest soon after that. Gabriel said the key to making that happen was his team's effort on defense.

"We know we are not going to make shots every time down the court," the senior said. "If we just go out there and play defense as hard as we can, we will get opportunities for fastbreaks and getting fouled."

Gabriel also noted that when Sullivan has a good performance, it opens up offensive opportunities for his teammates. "It means a lot because when he was struggling I feel like we were all struggling," Gabriel said. "Now that he is shooting the ball as good as he is shooting it, it creates opportunities for him to score and for us to score."

Auburn's aggressive man-to-man defense forced 23 South Carolina turnovers, nine more than the Tigers committed as a crowd of 8,329 enjoyed the contest. The players had praise for the crowd's intensity.

"I don't think this one is hard to figure out," South Carolina head coach Darrin Horn said. "The story of the game was turnovers. Give credit to Auburn...We never got into an offensive flow because of our turnovers."

Auburn coach Tony Barbee agreed with Horn about defense being the key to the victory. Auburn put together a solid game offensively, hitting 22-50 field goals for 44 percent, 7-18 threes and 12-18 free throws, but defensively the Tigers played well from the opening tip to the final whistle.

"We are what we are offensively," Barbee said of his team. "We are going to go through droughts. We are going to struggle to score. We only got two guys in double figures. From two of our other starters we got one point combined. We are what we are, but if we will guard, scrap and hustle with that sense of urgency you are going to give yourself a chance in every single game.

"Then, when we do get in a little bit of a run, you can go on those 8-0, 9-0 and 10-0 runs like we did at LSU where we just weren't able to get over the top. We were able to today. It was a great team win."

Prior to the game Sullivan said he had been spending extra time in the gym working on his shooting. Once again it paid dividends as he followed back-to-back games of 19 points with a season-high of 22.

After the victory though the junior guard credited defense for winning the contest on a day he hit 6-15 field goals, 4-11 threes and 6-6 foul shots.

"Everybody was in tune, on one accord," Sullivan said of Auburn's defense.

Auburn jumped to an early 8-2 lead with the help of a pair of threes by Sullivan, but South Carolina rallied and built a six-point lead with 6:08 left before intermission. At the break the margin was four points as the visitors were on top 28-24 with both teams playing aggressive defense.

Kenny Gabriel shoots for the Tigers.

Gabriel tied the game at 30-30 with 16:24 on a mid-range jumper on a pass from Sullivan. Then, with 15:42 to play, the Tigers took the lead for good as Gabriel's slam dunk on a fastbreak came on a pass by point guard Josh Wallace, who won praise from Barbee and teammates for his all-around performance.

Wallace helped the Tigers break down South Carolina's two-three zone defense and made it difficult for the Gamecocks to get their halfcourt sets started.

By the 10:18 mark the lead was up to 10 points at 44-34 on a layup by Chris Denson.

Auburn's largest margin came at the 6:43 mark when Gabriel hit a three-pointer to put the Tigers ahead 53-38.

South Carolina got hot on threes late in the game as the Gamecocks cut the margin to 58-49, but Auburn took care of business at the foul line to preserve their hard-earned victory.

Barbee used 10 players and each contributed. "Everybody played well," the coach said. "We had great energy. Everybody is understanding their roles better."

Starting Lineup: Wallace and Sullivan opened at the guard spots along with Rob Chubb at center with Gabriel and Josh Langford at the forward spots. It was the second start of the season for Wallace, a junior walk-on, and the fourth start this season for Langford, a sophomore who missed the first six games of the season with a suspension.

At The Half: The Tigers trailed 28-24 after hitting 9-21 field goals for 42.9 percent, 5-10 threes and 1-4 free throws in the first 20 minutes. Sullivan scored half of the points for the Tigers, who had nine turnovers, one less than South Carolina.

The Gamecocks out-rebounded Auburn 14-10 in the first half and hit 10-23 field goals for 45.3 percent. They were 3-6 on threes and 5-6 on free throws. Auburn rallied on the boards in the second half and ended the game trailing 29-28 on the boards.

Former Tigers: Former lettermen were honored at halftime. The group included Auburn's most famous basketball player, Charles Barkley, and two-time All-American John Mengelt.

Bringing the Payne: Allen Payne, who lost his starting job and almost all of his playing time when he went into an early season slump, played 11 minutes and provided a spark on defense with three steals. Payne made his only shot.

"It was good to see Allen Payne play well," Barbee said, noting the sophomore didn't "sulk or pout" when he was benched. "He has been ready for his opportunity. That is why he is back in the rotation."

Josh Wallace pressures Bruce Arrington, South Carolina's combo basketball/football player.

The Walk-on Who Can Run: Barbee had praise for the all-around play of Wallace, who finished with four points, three assists, one steal and just one turnover in 22 minutes of action. Wallace also caused problems for South Carolina guard Bruce Ellington, who hit just 4-14 field goals.

"He pressured Ellington and harassed him the majority of the game," Barbee said. "I thought Varez (Ward) was able to come in and feed off that momentum and do the same thing. Josh was a big key to what we did."

Up Next: The Tigers travel to Arkansas to take on the Razorbacks on Wednesday at 8 p.m. TV coverage is on CSS.

Tony Barbee's postgame comments on video:

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