Auburn comes up short in Columbia
South Carolina appeared to be a team giving up on their season. The Gamecocks entered their matchup with Auburn having lost their last six games, and sitting at just 4-9 in the SEC. Auburn on the other hand, was at the top of the conference, having just completed a great win at home against the Kentucky Wildcats. And while this game originally looked to favor the Tigers, Auburn left Columbia with a 84-75 loss and one of the best players out for the year.
South Carolina jumped on Auburn from the opening tip and led by as many as 26 in the first half, aided by a 21-1 run the Gamecocks went on. Any attempt at a comeback was made even more difficult by Anfernee McLemore's injury.
Late in the first half, McLemore suffered a gruesome injury that is expected to sideline him for the rest of the year. After the game, the sophomore forward announced on Twitter that he had a dislocated ankle, a fractured tibia, and torn ligaments that would require surgical repair. McLemore hopes to return in 4-6 months.
But it wasn't just McLemore's injury that put Auburn in an early hole. Bruce Pearl's three most reliable scorers each had some of their worst performances of the year. Jared Harper, who has become one of the SEC's best point guards, wasn't able to find any rhythm. Harper went just 2/8 from the field and tied a season low in assists. Harper has been the SEC's statistical leader in assists per game but logged just one in 33 minutes of play. Frank Martin's squad was also able to force Harper into nine turnovers.
Bryce Brown was a welcome presence against Kentucky after returning from a shoulder injury that forced him out of the Georgia game and the second half of the Texas A&M matchup. In Columbia however, it seemed clear that his shoulder was still giving him trouble. Brown has been the SEC's best three point shooter this season but went just 2-of-13 from behind the arc. During Auburn's second half push, Brown missed numerous open threes that would've cut Auburn's deficit.
Mustapha Heron also struggled to find rhythm on the court. Heron shot just 3-of-12, and 0-for-2 from the three point line.
But even with all those struggles, Auburn still nearly battled their way to a victory. Auburn came out with a new energy in the second half. The Tigers dominated the offensive glass, creating numerous second chance opportunites. With just under seven minutes left, Auburn cut the lead to five. But USC made their next shots and pushed the lead back to double digits. The Tigers were never able to shorten the gap.
If there is any good news for Auburn, it's that the rest of the SEC's best had equally bad days. Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and Alabama all lost on Saturday to keep the Tigers' SEC lead intact. Auburn will now host Alabama in a massively important revenge game. With Collin Sexton sidelined, the Tide downed Auburn 76-71 in Tuscaloosa. If Auburn wants to win the SEC regular season, they'll need to avenge their first SEC loss.