Auburn looks to keep rolling against South Carolina
No. 10 Auburn defeated Kentucky by 10 points on Valentine's Day, making Tigers coach Bruce Pearl love leading scorer Bryce Brown even more heading into Saturday's game at South Carolina.
Brown, suffering from a strained shoulder, went from a no-go in the morning shootaround to informing Auburn's medical staff before game-time that he felt ready to play against the Wildcats.
He finished with 18 points, matching his scoring average, in the Tigers' win. They improved to 23-3 overall and 11-2 in the SEC, two games ahead of Tennessee.
Brown, who played 29 minutes, made 4 of 7 attempts from 3-point range, including two in the last seven minutes.
"My teammates trust me at the moment," Brown said. "Like I've always been told to do, just make plays. Our coach preaches that all the time. Coach Pearl preaches that all the time. You have to make plays defensively and offensively."
Auburn, currently projected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi, is experiencing what South Carolina (13-13, 4-9) went through last year when the Gamecocks reached the Final Four.
The Gamecocks, who are in a six-game losing streak, have fallen on hard times this season.
Despite South Carolina's youth and the Gamecocks' foul problems at Tennessee on Wednesday, they were in position to win with only 30 seconds left in a 70-67 loss. A 3-point attempt by guard Justin Minaya at the buzzer came up short.
"Today we played well enough to win," said South Carolina coach Frank Martin, whose team was coming off a humbling 65-41 home loss to Florida in the previous game.
South Carolina rallied after falling behind by 14 points with 10:01 left in regulation.
"It just shows that we can be a good team if we just follow what Coach Frank talks about and preaches to us in practice," said senior guard Frank Booker, who led the Gamecocks with 19 points. "This one, we let it slip away, but we got more games to play."
Martin was forced to go to his bench because of foul trouble, and the reserves delivered. Freshman forward Ibrahim Famouke Doumbia had a career-high three points in five minutes, including some playing time in the first half. Sophomore forward Khadim Gueye logged 13 minutes and freshman forward Jason Cudd played 14 minutes.
"We went from being right there to being down 14 or whatever it was," Martin said. "But since we had a little fight in us today, we were able to get some stops and make some conversions on offense and give us a chance."
While South Carolina is going through growing pains, Auburn is thriving with its experienced players in Pearl's system.
Sophomore guard Jared Harper had 18 points and seven assists in the Tigers' win over Kentucky. Sophomore forward Anfernee McLemore and junior guard Desean Murray each had 11 rebounds to offset the Wildcats' size advantage inside.
"Our conditioning, our toughness, our resilience, our grit, is why we won the game," Pearl said. "Anfernee's a 6-foot-7, shot-blocking 3-point shooter who plays center. That's a tough matchup. Desean's a 6-foot-3 power forward who is as good a rebounder for his size as anyone who has played at Auburn since (Charles) Barkley."
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