Bryce Brown (above) has boosted his scoring average to 10.1 points per contest for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--The league’s hottest basketball team will make its 2016 SEC debut on Tuesday evening at Auburn Arena as Coach Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers try to become the first opponent to defeat the South Carolina Gamecocks this season.
Tipoff is set for shortly after 6 p.m. CST for a game that will be televised on the SEC Network. South Carolina is 13-0 following an 86-76 homecourt victory over Memphis on Saturday night. Earlier that day Auburn opened SEC play with an 83-77 victory over Tennessee to improve to 7-5.
Pearl said he is impressed with the Gamecocks, who feature five scorers averaging in double figures and are off to their best start since 1933. At plus 10.5 per game in rebounding margin, South Carolina is by far the best team in the SEC for that category with a starting lineup that features no player smaller than six-foot-five.
“They do a good job of getting the ball inside,” said Pearl. “They initiate contact every possession offensively and defensively. They will be the most physical team we play on both sides of the ball, and we are going to have to be able to handle their physicality.
“They are deep, they have got a good, deep roster so our ability to rebound, our ability to be able to defend without putting them on the foul line and seeing if we can turn them over some I think will be probably keys to our success,” said Pearl.
South Carolina’s largest starter, 6-11, 245 senior Laimonas Chatkevicius, should be a matchup problem for the Tigers, but there are others, too. Chatkevicius is averaging 10.8 points and 4.2 rebounds. Michael Carrera, a very active six-foot-five senior forward, is the top scorer (12.4 points per game) and top rebounder (6.1) for the Gamecocks. Mindaugas Kacinas, a 6-7, 229 senior forward, is averaging 12 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Sindarius Thornwell, a 6-5 junior, is averaging 11.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. The other starting guard, 6-6 freshman P.J. Dozier, is averaging 8.1 points and 3.6 rebounds. Duane Notice, a 6-2 junior guard, is expected to provide scoring punch off the bench. He is averaging 12.2 points.
“We had a hard time rebounding against Tennessee,” Pearl pointed out. “We are going to have an even harder time rebounding against South Carolina.”
Pearl had praise for the job Martin has done improving the South Carolina team. “He has been a great program builder, and he’s a terrific coach and a great motivator. His teams play hard, physical and passionate, and play together.
“This year’s edition is a better representative of the way he wants his team to play because a lot of these guys have been with him for a couple of years and have experienced the bumps and bruises of trying to rebuild a program and rebuild a roster,” Pearl pointed out.
Point guard Kareem Canty has started every game for the Tigers.
Auburn is led in scoring by junior Kareem Canty, who is averaging 19.3 points per contest plus a team-leading 5.9 assists per game. Tyler Harris is the number two Tiger rebounder at 8.8 per outing and is second in scoring at 14.4 points per game. Cinmeon Bowers is averaging 12.3 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds.
Worth Noting, Part 1: Sophomore guard T.J. Lang, who underwent a concussion protocol after colliding with a Tennessee player on Saturday, will likely be available in a reserve role on Tuesday night. He is averaging 5.7 points and 1.9 rebounds.
Worth Noting, Part 2: The Tigers have won six of the last seven games vs. South Carolina and lead the series 23-15. Pearl is 13-2 coaching vs. the Gamecocks with a 10-game winning streak.
Worth Noting, Part 3: Injuries continue to be an issue for the Tigers. Pearl said that freshman guard New Williams is having problems with his knee and is unavailable on Tuesday night, joining junior guards T.J. Dunans (knee injury) and Tahj Shamsid-Deen (shoulder) on the list of players sidelined with injuries.
Worth Noting, Part 4: The injuries have moved freshman Bryce Brown into the starting lineup and he has responded with back-to-back games of 20 points. Brown admitted he didn’t expect to have such a major role.
“I didn’t expect for it to be this big at first,” he said. “I believed the more that I showed the coaches what I could do, it could eventually get to this point. Nobody knew that we were going to have these injuries. I just prepared myself at all times. That’s what my parents taught me.”