Baniulis Breaks Loose for Career High

Evaldas Baniulis started the year off as a true freshman sitting on USC's bench watching his teammates play. Wednesday night the Lithuanian native showed why he had worked his way into the team's starting lineup, finishing the Auburn game with 21 points and five rebounds.

"It just happened, it was my night," Baniulis said following the Gamecocks' 80-75 loss to the Tigers.

Baniulis started the game off strong hitting his first 3-point shot of the night to put USC up 10-9 in the first half. He followed that 3-pointer with another to keep the Gamecocks ahead by a one-point margin at 12-11.

As the Gamecocks ended the first half, Baniulis scored his career best for a first half with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting (2-of-3 from 3-point range).

It was Baniulis who opened the second half with Carolina's first points, hitting his third 3-pointer off a Bryce Sheldon assist giving USC its only lead of the second half at 38-37.

"He had a terrific offensive night," USC coach Dave Odom said. "He felt good, he shot the ball well. Thank goodness he did cause we had some others that didn't have the best night."

As Auburn tried to take advantage of a slight margin, Baniulis kept the Gamecocks in position to make a run at the Tigers as he hit three of his four shot attempts in the first 6 minutes of play.

With the Tiger defense clamping down, Baniulis found himself with less and less opportunities to shoot the ball cleanly. At the 3:22 mark, the leading scorer found himself wide open in the lane for a lay-up that ultimately rolled off the rim.

"When I drove, I did not expect to be that open," Baniulis said. "Also, I was kind of a little tired and in an unexpected situation. It just happened. I couldn't believe I missed that."

Baniulis wouldn't hit or take another shot the rest of the game, as Sheldon began to free up and hit 3-pointers down the stretch to keep the game close but not enough to pull out the win.

"It's a loss of opportunities," Baniulis said. "Threes nothing now we can do. Just keep working for other games."

Despite the game's ultimate results, Odom was pleased with the way Baniulis played under pressure and helped keep his team in position to win. "I think he's coming of age. I think he's much more confident now offensively but in truth he's got some work to do defensively," Odom said. "I'm very proud of Evka, very, very proud of him. He's come a long way."

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