It was an excruciatingly slow start for South Carolina, while The Tigers of Auburn did just the opposite on their way to a big road win that may have put one of the final nails in the hopes of Carolina fans for a NCAA post season berth for their Gamecocks.
Auburn led 8-4 at 15:58 marking the first break in the half with the Tigers having hit two of two from beyond the arch. But the Gamecocks challenged Auburn man to man after the break with Dave Odom obviously encouraging his squad to force the ball down low and take advantage of the smaller Tigers. Brandon Wallace pulled the Cocks to within 2 with a put back and with 14:45 showing they trailed 8-6. The Gamecocks continued to apply full court pressure.
South Carolina only 4 of 13 from the field with 12:30 to go in the first half but thankfully Auburn was already finding themselves in foul trouble by that time with six although USC matched that in turnovers and neither team appeared at the top of their game. The Gamecocks especially looked lethargic and lacking energy early.
The Gamecocks finally took the lead 15-13 at the 11:58 mark of the first half on an 8-0 run. SC would quickly lose the lead only to steal it back just as quickly on two Rodney Trice baskets, the second coming off a steal and culminating with a two-handed jam to the delight of the crowd.
With 7:56 remaining in the first half the Gamecocks led 19-18.
The game would seesaw to and fro until the Gamecocks took their biggest lead of the first half 28-24 with 3:56 remaining in the period.
Back and forth they would go on the strength of Josh Gonner's two for two from beyond the arch in the first half and the fact that SC was out-rebounding the Tigers 20-13.
With one minute to go in the first half Carolina led 31-30 but AU's Anthony Douglas would nail a three to put the Tigers up by two, 33-31, only to see SC respond almost immediately with heady board play to tie the game..
With fifteen seconds to go in the first half Auburn failed to convert and the half would end in a draw 33-33
Auburn's Tony Douglas, the leading freshman scorer in the nation averaging 18 points a game, opened the second half with his fourth three of the contest and upped his three point shot to miss ratio to 4 of 4. Auburn would force Dave Odom into a quick time out with a five-oh run jumping up 38-33 barely three minutes into the second period. It would be the first time this season that Auburn had led in the second half of a SEC road game. The first, of a couple of firsts, for the Tigers.
Auburn would extend the lead to eleven on a 13-2 run on the strength of 8 of 12 from beyond the arch. The Tigers were red-hot and out-quicking the usually quicker Gamecocks.
48-37 was the score with 15:32 to play.
Rocky Trice and Josh Gonner decided it was time to turn up the heat and apply a dose of SC quickness to the Tigers by forcing Auburn into two quick turnovers and two fouls resulting in two points for the Cocks. But the Gamecocks would stay in their man-to-man and Tony Douglas would take advantage upping the Auburn lead to 50-39.
Auburn's smaller size and quickness was confusing the Gamecocks and Dave Odom appeared to have no answer to Jeff Lebo's game plan as the War Eagles hit another three to go up 53-39 before Carlos Powell stopped the bleeding with a two.
Renaldo Balkman picked up his fourth foul of the game and was forced to go to the bench with no points but seven rebounds with twelve minutes remaining.
With 11:17 to go in the game Auburn led 52-45 and SC's chances were slipping away.
As the partisan crowd gained a bit of steam after the break, the Gamecocks seemed to recognize their predicament and in doing so turned up the heat. Josh Gonner was fouled twice to pull SC within eleven with the clock stopped and then after a couple of exchanges Carlos Powell did the same from the charity stripe pulling the Gamecocks to within nine, 55-46.
If the Gamecocks were going to win this one they were going to have to hit their freebies the rest of the way along with earning more than their share of second chances. But before SC could garner a roll of any sort The Tigers jumped to their biggest lead of the game 60-46 with 7:24 remaining.
The Cocks refused to wilt as they pulled within eight on a 6-0 run with Tre Kelly culminating the run before the timeout with a slam.
The crowd went wild with under six minutes to go.
Rocky Trice cut the Auburn lead to six and the barnburner was on as the electricity in the Colonial Center zoomed.
Auburn would increase their margin to 62-54 with a little more than four minutes remaining before Carlos Powell went to the line to hit one of two from the free throw line.
Rocky Trice would force another Auburn turnover but the Tigers would recover only to be called for an offensive foul as the clock slipped under the four minute mark with AU leading by seven at the time out.
Tre Kelly would notch two but Josh Gonner would pour in five to bring the Gamecocks to within two with two minutes remaining. After a brief timeout Nathan Watson hit his first three of the game with two seconds on the shot clock to put the Tigers back up by five with a minute remaining and seriously damage the Gamecocks' chances.
The Tigers had hit 52% of their threes up until this point in the game.
South Carolina was forced to foul and Auburn converted one of two before reeling in their own rebound with a six-point lead and the wind apparently emptied from the Gamecocks' sails.
However, with 42 seconds remaining Tre Kelly managed a steal and a dish to Carlos Powel who laid it in for two to bring the Gamecocks within four and another nail biting finish for the Cocks.
Tony Douglas turned the ball over with a step on the line and suddenly the Gamecocks were back in it with 32 seconds remaining and trailing by two after a Josh Gonner lay-up.
With 25 seconds remaining and Auburn up 68-66 the Tigers hit two free throws to go back up by four. Rocky Trice scored quickly and then fouled to bring the Cocks back within two and then put the Tigers back on the line. Auburn hit both frees with fifteen seconds to go.
Dave Odom called a quick timeout.
South Carolina was only three of fifteen from the arch at the timeout and Josh Gonner had hit all three of those going 3-7 by this point.
Tre Kelly missed a lay-in attempt and Auburn capitalized with a transition basket that sealed the deal for an Auburn win.
Josh Gonner hit a three at the bell but it would not matter as the final score flashed Auburn 74, Carolina 71. It was Auburn's first win on the road and South Carolina's first SEC loss at home this season.
SC would fall to 5-5 in SEC play and 13-8 on the season as they watched their NCAA post season hopes slip away just a little bit further.
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