Energized AU Evens SEC Record Vs. Gamecocks

K.T. Harrell sparked the Auburn Tigers, who took a 71-68 Southeastern Conference basketball victory vs. South Carolina.

K.T. Harrell led all scorers as Auburn won its 10th game of the season.

Auburn, Ala.--Senior K.T. Harrell broke out of his recent scoring slump with 24 points to lead Auburn to a hard-fought 71-68 SEC basketball victory over South Carolina on Saturday night.

Harrell hit 6-12 field goals, was 4-5 on treys and he nailed all eight of his free throw shots as Auburn evened its SEC record at 2-2 and improved to 10-7 for the season. South Carolina dropped to 10-6 overall and 1-3 in the league.

Antoine Mason scored 14 points and Cinmeon Bowers posted his 11th double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Junior Cinmeon Bowers dunks for the Tigers.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said the energy brought from a standing-room only crowd of 9,121-plus sparked his team to victory and South Carolina coach Frank Martin opened his post-game remarks noting that the Auburn fans were impressive.

“A lot of credit to Auburn and Bruce,” Martin said. “The atmosphere they have built here, they are good at home. We tried, but we turned it over way too much in the first half. We didn’t play strong enough in the first half.”

Pearl was pleased with Harrell’s performance, particularly in the closing minutes when the game was on the line. “We tried to find ways to get K.T. the ball and K.T., obviously, was able to deliver. We did a great job from the foul line (26-33) tonight so I am really proud of our team, and it doesn’t happen without a sellout crowd.”

Pearl said he talked to the South Carolina coach just before tipoff. “He just looked up around and he complimented what he saw in Auburn Arena and the basketball program trying to compete," the Auburn coach pointed out. "I am pleased with the win against a very good team. That is a NCAA Tournament team. That team will finish in the top five or six of our league.”

The Gamecocks put four players in double figures led by Duane Notice, who scored 16, and Lamoinas Chatkevicius, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Johnson scored 13 apiece.

The Tigers’ third double figures scorer, Antoine Mason, finished with 14 points.

Halftime Numbers: Auburn led 39-29 at the break despite shooting 37.1 percent from the field to 42.9 for the Gamecocks, who were 12-28 while Auburn made 13-35 field goals. Auburn hit 3-12 threes and 10-11 free throws while South Carolina made 5-11 threes and was 0-1 at the foul line. Each team pulled 20 rebounds in the first half and the Gamecocks turned the ball over 10 times to just two for the Tigers. Mason scored 10 points to lead the Tigers at the break while Harrell was next with eight. Notice led the Gamecocks in scoring with 10 points.

South Carolina shot 58.3 percent in the second half to make the Tigers have to battle to the final seconds to pull out the win. The Gamecocks erased Auburn’s halftime lead and tied the game at 45-45 with 12:04 to play and led 58-53 with 4:43 to play.

Auburn then cut the lead to one point as Harrell was fouled when he took a three-pointer that went in and so did his free throw. Bowers then put Auburn up 59-58 with two free throws at the 4:12 mark and Auburn led the rest of the way.

“To be totally I honest, I really didn’t think that was going in,” Harrell said of his shot on the four-point play. It was a good play. It was a big momentum switch for us.”

Auburn was out-shot from the field 50 percent to 36.5 percent. The Tigers made 7-20 threes while the Gamecocks finished 8-18 on threes.

South Carolina hurt its cause by making just 8-15 free throws. Martin said critical misses late in the game thwarted his team’s comeback.

Auburn outscored the Gamecocks 29-14 in points off of turnovers and 17-11 in bench points.

South Carolina played aggressively on defense and made the Tigers work hard to score. "They started off playing physical, grabbing on to people, and we were prepared for it," Mason said. "The scout team did a good job to show us what they were going to do."

Worth Noting, Part 1: Harrell noted that he loved the crowd support. “That is probably as loud as it has been since I have been here,” he said. “That type of atmosphere, and that type of crowd, makes you feel like you can’t lose and you just play that much harder.”

Commenting on the crowd and why his team plays better at home, Pearl said, “The adrenaline and energy that we get from this crowd is great. This is one of the best home team advantages. It is loud and tight.

"Two things happen when you are on the road. The home team often times plays better, and sometimes it bothers the visiting team. Both happen to us. The crowd didn’t bother South Carolina. They are too experienced, and they have been to too many places so it didn’t bother them. It definitely elevated us. So we just have to figure out how we can bring our own energy for road games. We need to do what we did defensively--17 turnovers. How many turnovers did Florida have? Nine.”

Worth Noting, Part 2: The Tigers finished the game with nine steals with Malcolm Canada, K.C. Ross-Miller and Mason having two apiece. South Carolina had just three steals for the game. Auburn turned the ball over 13 times, South Carolina 17 times.

Stat of the Game: Auburn finished with a 36-34 rebounding advantage against the bigger Gamecocks. “We had 23 defensive rebounds and they only had nine defensive rebounds," Pearl said. "They rebound 35 or 36 percent of their misses and obviously that is not what they got tonight. The fact that South Carolina only got nine second-chance points was huge.”

Mason said that before the game that Harrell talked to the team about the importance of rebounding to win the game and noted that he and the other returning players really wanted to win the game after losing to the Gamecocks to end the 2013-14 season at the SEC Tournament. “We knew the best way to out-work them was on rebounds and defense,” Mason said.

Up Next: The Tigers will return to action with an 8 p.m. CST home game on Wednesday vs. Mississippi State.

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