Photo by Jason Caldwell

South Carolina's Strong Start Was Too Much For the Auburn Basketball Tigers to Overcome

South Carolina jumped to a big first half lead and was able to hold on for an SEC basketball victory at Auburn Arena.

Tyler Harris (above) scored 22 points for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Turnovers and balanced scoring by South Carolina allowed the Gamecocks to stay unbeaten with an 81-69 SEC basketball victory over the

 Auburn Tigers on Tuesday night.

The Tigers turned the ball over 21 times, including 15 in the first half when the Gamecocks took control of the game.

Auburn made a run in the second half, cutting the lead that had been as many as 18 points in the first half to five points, but the Gamecocks took care of business late in the game to improve to 14-0.

“When teams have made a push at us we have settled down,” said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, noting that was an issue the previous season. “Before they have worried about the situation, tonight they focused on the next play.”

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl called his team’s performance disappointing. “We obviously turned the ball over,” he said. “We didn’t execute.

“Give South Carolina credit because they play hard, but I thought half of our 21 turnovers were plays where we didn’t value possessions,” he said.

Auburn got 22 points and six rebounds from senior forward Tyler Harris, who hit 10-13 field goals. Kareem Canty scored 21 points for the Tigers, but made just 6-15 field goals. Auburn’s only other double figures scorer was Bryce Brown, who fouled out with 11 points.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Kareem Canty drives to the basket on Tuesday night.

Harris said he wanted his teammates to get him the ball inside more than they did. Pearl wanted the same thing. “We were begging the guys to throw it in there,” the coach said, pointing out that Harris was causing the slower South Carolina big men problems. “We didn’t do a good job with that,” Pearl added.

Sindarius Thornwell, who hit 5-8 three-pointers, led the Gamecocks with 22 points while three of his teammates scored a dozen points apiece and another finished with 10.

Pearl said it took his team about 10 minutes of game time “before we really turned it up and began to compete.” By that time the Gamecocks had pushed their lead to double figures.

Harris agreed with his coach. “It took us a while to get calm,” said the senior forward, who hit his first nine field goal attempts. “It was toward the end of the half when we started to calm down a little bit.

Harris said the Gamecocks took advantage of Auburn’s mistakes in building the first half lead. “I think we were rushing a little too much,” he said, adding, “We weren’t really strong with the ball today.”

Ball-handling issues enabled the visitors to take control of the game in the first half. The Gamecocks led 43-23 at halftime and 23 of South Carolina’s total was points off of turnovers. The Tigers turned the ball over 15 times in the first half, seven more than the Gamecocks.

South Carolina’s largest lead in the opening 20 minutes was 18 points. Auburn’s largest lead was three points in the opening minute.

Halftime Numbers: The Gamecocks hit 15-32 field goals (46.9 percent) while Auburn made 11-24 (44.0 percent). South Carolina made 6-16 threes while the Tigers made 5-13. Auburn was 3-5 at the foul line, South Carolina hit 7-9 and held an 18-16 rebounding advantage. Harris led the Tigers in scoring with 13 points as he made all six of his field goals. Thornwell led the Gamecocks with 13 first half points as he hit 3-4 treys.

Auburn was less mistake-prone in the second half and that allowed the Tigers to make a push. A three-pointer by Brown at the 15-minute mark cut the lead to single digits at 54-45.

Another three by Brown, this one with 10:58 to play, narrowed the gap to 59-54. However, a pair of baskets by 6-11 senior Laimonas Chatkevicius seemed to reenergize the visitors.

With 5:35 to play Chatkevicius scored on a fastbreak dunk and was fouled. After making the free throw the Gamecocks had stretched the lead back to double digits at 69-57 and were not threatened the rest of the night.

“The atmosphere in that building has become tremendous,” Martin said of Auburn Arena “Our guys held the fort down and I am proud of them.”

Worth Noting, Part 1: T.J. Lang, who took a blow to the face in Saturday’s game vs. Tennessee, was able to return to action. The sophomore guard did not start and finished with no points, one rebound, one assist and three fouls in 10 minutes of playing time.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Senior forward Cinmeon Bowers continued to struggle offensively. He was 1-7 from the field and finished the game with three points, three rebounds and one steal in 27 minutes of playing time.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Bryce Brown drives to the basket. 

Worth Noting, Part 3: With T.J. Dunans and Tahj Shamsid-Deen out with injuries, Brown posted his fourth consecutive game in double figures. During that stretch the freshman has averaged 16 points and made 17-37 threes. He hit 3-9 treys vs. the Gamecocks and was 2-2 at the foul line with five rebounds and two steals.

Worth Noting, Part 4: A massive traffic stoppage on I-85 prevented some fans from reaching Auburn Arena until well after the contest started and others gave up and did not get to the arena.

Up Next: The Tigers will play at Missouri on Saturday ( 8 p.m. tipoff).

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