The South Carolina men’s basketball team suffered its fifth conference defeat of the season Saturday afternoon, losing 81-66 in a matchup against No. 16 Auburn.
The Gamecocks’ shooting woes plagued the team throughout the game, as it went 20-56 (35.7%) from the floor and recorded its sixth-worst shooting performance of the campaign. However, strong play in the second half resulted in its second-smallest margin of defeat in a home game this year.
“We had a rough start, but our guys fought back and made some plays and the tides had turned, and momentum was on our side,” head coach Lamont Paris said. “I thought we played well trying to extend that run as long as we possibly could.”
South Carolina struggled on both sides of the ball in the first half and headed into the break behind by 17 points.
Even though the Gamecocks had an advantage over the Tigers in total rebounds (20-16) and offensive rebounds (9-3) over the first 20 minutes of the game, it lacked a finishing touch and was unable to convert on the opportunities it created. South Carolina shot 8-31 (25.8%) overall and 2-14 (14.3%) from three in the first half.
Auburn established a dominant presence in the paint early and maintained it for the entire game. The Tigers scored 22 points in the paint in the first half and finished with 46. Many of those close range shots were made by Auburn sophomore forward Johni Broome, who shot 12-17 and recorded 27 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.
“Coming into the game, we knew that a lot of play was going to work for the short rows and at the rim, so that’s what we did,” Broome said. “I saw (junior guard Wendell Green Jr.) had 12 assists – he was doing a great job of passing the ball, looking guys off and making the right play.”
The Gamecocks' resolve never wavered despite the large halftime deficit, as the team outscored Auburn 44-42 in the second half. South Carolina was behind by as many as 26 points after the break, but an 18-3 run midway through the period helped bring it within 10 points of the lead.
A big part of the late comeback was freshman forward GG Jackson, who tallied a career-high 30 points and eight rebounds on 10-21 shooting in one of the best performances of his collegiate career. Jackson’s 30 points were the most scored by a Gamecock this season and marked the highest scoring total by a South Carolina freshman since 2010.
“Just for him, being as young as he is, being able to have that resiliency, whether it be mental or physical like, ‘What are some things I can do to not have a game like I did against Tennessee?’" Brown said. “And then for him to come out here and have a game like he did … I think that’s a step of growth, and I was encouraged by that,” graduate student forward Hayden Brown said.
Despite the end result, Jackson said he believes the team has the potential to compete and win important games down the stretch, much like it did in a 71-68 upset win over Kentucky on the road.
“God is definitely putting me and my teammates through a very, very big test, and he showed what the team can be capable of in that Kentucky game,” Jackson said. “I feel like it’s up to us to be competitive as possible, to want to go out there and get it.”
South Carolina (8-11, 1-5 SEC) returns to action on the road when it faces off against Florida at 7 p.m. on Jan. 25. The game will be aired on ESPN2.