South Carolina’s 18-2 run in 2nd half not enough
Despite 29 points from senior Brenton Williams and recovering from a 16-point deficit, South Carolina let victory slip from its fingers once again against Auburn Wednesday night.
That scenario has repeated itself for the Gamecocks this season, and the 79-74 loss to the Tigers was no different.
After trailing 60-44 with around 13 minutes left in the game, South Carolina embarked on an 18-2 run to tie the game at 62 with less than eight minutes to go.
But Auburn responded with a 7-1 run, using the quickness of guards Chris Denson and K.T. Harrell to drive past Gamecock defenders for easy layups. The two Tiger guards combined for 50 of Auburn’s 79 points.
Coach Frank Martin knew coming into the game that Sindarius Thornwell and Duane Notice, both freshmen, would have their hands full with the talented Tiger duo, which came in averaging over 38 points per game.
Martin was happy with the freshmen’s effort but was not pleased with the defensive help of the three other players on the floor.
“Our help-side defense was atrocious and embarrassing,” Martin said. “That’s all I spoke about after the game. The three guys that were not guarding those two players never helped. We don’t block shots, we don’t take charges and we don’t defensive rebound. It’s hard to win. Our margin for error is paper thin, and those three guards have to play real, real well.”
Auburn used six offensive rebounds in the first nine minutes of the game to keep pace with the South Carolina offense. Although the Gamecocks eventually evened the rebounding battle, they could not stop the Tigers when they needed to most.
Williams knocked down one of his six three-pointers on the night with 23 seconds left to pull his team to within three points, but Auburn iced the game from the free throw line, where they made 16 of 20 attempts. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks missed nine free throws of their own.
“Tough loss,” Martin said. “Once again: close game, missed free throws. Can’t shoot 59 percent from the line and win a SEC game.”
Six of South Carolina’s eight league losses have been by eight points or fewer, which has made Williams and his teammates all too familiar with the close-but-no-cigar feeling.
“Disappointment does start to set in after a while because it’s like the sixth or seventh close loss we’ve had,” Williams said. “But we always have to get ready for the next game because we can’t be mad at one game and take that into the next.”
The big second-half run by the Gamecocks was one of the more positive moments for the team and could be a learning experience for the young group.
Martin said he just wants his players, particularly the veteran Williams, to be aggressive when the game is within reach and not when their backs are against the wall.
“Like I told Brent, why does he wait until we’re down 15 to decide to drive and take shots?” Martin said. “Why doesn’t he do that when the game is tied? He’s got to embrace that role.”
The senior received little help from his teammates.
Mindaugas Kacinas scored 14 points off the bench, but the rest of the reserves combined for one rebound, one assist and no points. Notice was the only other Gamecock in double figures, with 12.