Danjel Purifoy (above) is averaging 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
Auburn, Ala.--Auburn will play its 20th game of the 2016-17 basketball season on Tuesday in Columbia, S.C., and the matchup vs. the South Carolina Gamecocks could be one of the most challenging of the year for the Tigers.
Tipoff is set for shortly after 5:30 p.m. CST at Colonial Life Arena where South Carolina will be looking to improve its 15-4 record, including a 5-1 mark in the SEC. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Auburn, winners of two home games last week, is 13-6 overall and 3-4 in the league.
The Gamecocks feature a strong defense and one of the top all-around players in the SEC, senior Sindarius Thornwell, a six-foot-five, 211-pound guard who is averaging 19.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He scored 34 points in his last outing, an 85-69 loss at Kentucky in which South Carolina’s five-game winning streak ended.
Sindarius Thornwell is having a strong senior season.
“Obviously, defensively they are terrific,” says Coach Bruce Pearl. “They are also really physical offensively the way they screen, the way they pin down when they post, and Thornwell has become one of the league’s very best players. It is a great example of a guy that paid his dues...He just kept grinding and getting better and he is going to be a great pro.”
Auburn comes into the contest following home wins vs. LSU (78-74) and Alabama (84-64). The Saturday game vs. the Tide marked the return to action for redshirt freshman forward Danjel Purifoy, who played 29 minutes vs. Alabama and said on Monday that he did not have any swelling or other problems from his comeback contest.
“There was no pain,” Purifoy said about Saturday’s game. “We were playing Alabama so I didn't care. I couldn't feel anything.”
Purifoy missed three games with his ankle injury suffered vs. Ole Miss on January 7th. “I was supposed to be out for like five weeks,” he said. “I was rehabbing every day, and three times a day, and after grinding I was back in a week and a half or two. That’s a good thing.”
Purifoy noted that Auburn’s intensity in the second half, particularly in the final eight minutes, was the key to the 20-point win vs. Alabama. “We have just got to keep doing what we are doing,” he said. “We have got to guard like we did in those last eight minutes and if we do that we can’t be beat.”
Pearl noted it won’t be that easy, stating that Tuesday night’s matchup is going to be one of the toughest of the season for the Tigers against an opponent that leads the nation in three-point field goal defense (27.2 percent), is fourth in field goal defense (37.4 percent) and eighth in scoring defense (60.7 points per game).
“They are unlike anyone else in our league in that they will deny the first pass on every pass so they don’t let you reverse it, they don’t let you enter that,” Auburn’s coach said. “You have to have other things in your package to go against them. It is like blitzing every down.”
P.J. Dozer, a 6-6 sophomore guard, is the No. 2 scorer for the Gamecocks with an average of 14.6 points per outing. Chris Silva, a 6-9, 223 sophomore, is averaging 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. Malik Kotsar, a 6-10, 245 freshman, is averaging 7.1 points and 5.4 rebounds. Duane Notice, a 6-2 senior guard, is averaging 9.1 points and 5-10 freshman Rakym Felder is contributing six points per contest.
“We have got to be able to handle their pressure, we have to find ways to score,” Pearl said. “We have to pick up our physicality.
“It is very difficult to go on the road and play a team that is in the top two or three in the league and not start well,”?he added. “We have to start well. That has been a problem for us a little bit.”