South Carolina Coach Dave Odom said his team was outplayed in virtually every phase of the game on a Saturday when his club desperately needed a victory to aid its bid for an NCAA Tournament berth. However, it was the Tigers, who are playing for not much more than pride at the end of a disappointing season who performed like a team on a mission.
Auburn finished the game with a 16-3 edge in offensive rebounds against a taller and physically imposing USC front line.
Auburn finished the game with a 33-22 advantage in defensive boards with an all-around team effort that featured six different players contributing at least five rebounds. Kyle Davis led the group with nine.
Auburn held the Gamecocks to 26.1 percent shooting in the first half and 31 percent in the second period for an average of 28.8 percent for the afternoon.
Dwyane Mitchell works on defense for the Tigers.
"The battle inside was absolutely a mismatch from the outset," Odom said. "If our players are not embarrassed by that, they never will be."
Odom says he is going to use Auburn's turnaround, following a pair of blowout Tiger road losses at Mississippi State and Florida as an example to his team of how to bounce back. At 16-11 overall and 6-8 in the SEC, the Gamecocks need to win their final two regular season games if they plan to go to the Big Dance.
Auburn coach Cliff Ellis pointed to his team's effort on the boards as the big statistic, too. That enabled his Tigers to overcome ball-handling problems against USC's trapping defense that forced 25 Tiger turnovers. "To see that stat (49-25 rebound margin) is impressive," Ellis said. "To double that team rebounding, that is a commitment. (Jamel) Bradley is one of the SEC three-point leaders and did not score a three off of Derrick Bird. Not one. Not one. Our defense stopped some plays. They were strong."
Auburn's Davis said the victory was the result of defensive intensity. "We played good defense and we just kept it up," he says.
Adam Harrington, the only player in the game who scored in double figures with 13 points, said the win is especially satisfying after getting blown out in two games before the victory over the Gamecocks. "I would say the last two games were probably the low point of the season and that is why it is a good feeling for us right now after giving up 89 points two games in a row to two very good basketball teams. I think we did a good job. I am proud of everybody on the team."
Harrington said a good week of practice set the stage for the victory. "It is almost like we have been winning every game by 20 the way we have come to practice and worked hard," he says. "That shows a lot of character from everybody. It is a big win for us. Things haven't gone our way this year, but our season is not over. Right now, we are playing for a postseason tournament, whatever that one may be. We have control over whatever one we want to go to and we are going to take it game by game."
South Carolina led by as many as four points early in the game, but the Tigers took the lead for good on a three-point play by Mitchell with 9:16 left in the first half. He scored on a layup and was fouled. The freshman converted the three-point play to put the Tigers on top 17-15.
Derrick Bird with the slam.
A fast break dunk by Bird stretched the margin to 22-15 and the Tigers built the margin to double figures on another old-fashioned three-point play by Mitchell late in the half. At intermission, Auburn was on top 28-18 and the lead would grow in the second period.
At the 14:37 mark, the Tigers were on top 35-20 after a Davis free throw when USC made its run. Back-to-back three pointers cut the gap to nine and prompted Ellis to call a timeout. However, that didn't stop the run.
USC narrowed the gap to 37-35 on a long three-pointer by Ivan Howell with 6:19 to play. A pair of layups by Daniels and Harrington gave the Tigers some breathing room at 41-35 at the 5:10 mark. The Tigers increased the lead to eight on an athletic three-point play in the paint by Daniels with 3:28 when he converted his foul shot.
However, the Tigers went nearly three minutes without scoring again before freshman Marco Killingsworth's tip-in basket put the Tigers ahead 48-43 with 34 seconds to play. Harrington then iced the game with a fast break layup with 13 seconds left.
Carlos Powell hit a three-pointer to narrow the final margin to 50-46.
Auburn returns to action on Wednesday at Alabama and closes the regular season next Saturday at home vs. LSU.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Sophomore reserve forward Abdou Diame became the second Tiger kicked off the team this season, joining senior point guard Lincoln Glass. Team sources said that Diame got the boot for missing practice after the Tigers were blown out at Florida. He will not be allowed to return to the team. With Diame out, walk-on Donny Calton played nine minutes and had three rebounds and no points...Harrington said the Tigers came out with the mindset that they wanted to have fun vs. the Gamecocks. "Obviously, it wasn't a pretty game to watch, but on rebounding and defense we really stepped it up today."...Auburn has now won 11 of the 13 games vs. the Gamecocks since USC joined the SEC...South Carolina's Odom said he was very impressed with Auburn's performance. "What they did today was not easy and I am not talking about beating South Carolina. I am talking about coming back from two disappointing losses on the road where they were beaten soundly. To be able to come back home, regroup, play very hard and win a basketball in the SEC is a very commendable thing and I certainly give them all of the credit in the world for what they did today."
* * *