Jan. 5, 2016
AUBURN, ALA. — An active defense in the first half would prove to be the difference as the #22/20 South Carolina Gamecocks opened the SEC season with a road win at Auburn Tuesday night, 81-69. Sindarius Thornwell kept a hot hand, leading the team with 22 points while Laimonas Chatkevicius added his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Tigers (7-6, 1-1 SEC) held an early advantage, but the Gamecocks (14-0, 1-0) soon found success getting into the passing lanes and went off on a 12-0 run to take an 18-9 lead six minutes in. In that stretch, Auburn turned the ball over four times and missed a pair of shots, while Thornwell took advantage by scoring seven of those 12 points on his own. He would finish the half with 13 points thanks to a trio of 3-pointers, he and Duane Notice combined to connect on 6-of-9 3s in the half.
South Carolina’s defense would harass Auburn relentlessly, forcing 15 turnovers in the first half that led to 23 of the Gamecocks’ 43 points. The visitors took a 43-30 lead into the break, the lowest first-half scoring output from the Tigers this season.
Both sides kept sending it in from 3 to start the half, hitting three apiece in the first three minutes of the second half. Auburn made a concerted effort to limit turnovers, committing just six in the final 20 minutes, but the Gamecocks would turn to a high efficiency half-court offense to hold off any rallies.
Auburn could get no closer than six in the second half, as South Carolina shot 55 percent from the field and 79 percent at the free throw line. For the game the Garnet and Black shot an even 50 percent, the fifth time overall this season.
A lead that grew as large as 18 in the first half was whittled down to six, 63-57, with 7:30 to play but the Gamecocks responded with a 7-0 to push it back to double figures for the rest of the game. Chatkevicius put an exclamation mark on the modest but crucial run with a three-point play on a thunderous dunk in transition.
Head coach Frank Martin leaned on his veterans for the second half, giving his juniors and seniors 83 of the 100 possible minutes of playing time. Sophomore Marcus Stroman would play like a vet in the second half, finding success as distributor and slasher for the offense. He made it to the line, hitting all six free throw attempts, and added a layup in his 12 second-half minutes. For the second game in a row, free throws late in the game sealed the win — South Carolina hit 7-of-8 in the final 3:36 to push the lead out of reach.
The South Carolina defense forced 15 first-half turnovers, and scored more than half of its 43 first-half points directly off those turnovers. With 28 points off turnovers for the night, the Gamecocks set a new season high against Division I opponents in the category (best is 29 vs. Francis Marion).
Facing a team that relies heavily on 3-point shooting, the Gamecocks made sure Auburn couldn’t find extra chances with offensive rebounds. South Carolina allowed just six second-chance points and eight offensive rebounds for the game.
South Carolina continues SEC play when Vanderbilt travels to Columbia on Saturday. Tip time vs. the Commodores is set for 3 p.m. ET. Mike Morgan (play-by-play), Chris Spatola (analyst) and Kayce Smith (sideline) will have the call for the SEC Network broadcast.
- Tonight’s win was the team’s first in an SEC opener since an OT win vs. Vanderbilt to open the 2011 league campaign.
- Along with his season-high 22 points, junior Sindarius Thornwell moved to 991 career points. With just nine more, he will become the 42nd player in program history to reach 1,000 points.
- Five Gamecocks reached double figures in scoring on the night, the fourth time this season.
- Marcus Stroman was a perfect 8-of-8 at the free throw line, a career high, and tied his career high with 10 points. With a 22-of-28 night at the line, the team recorded its highest percentage of the season at 78.9.
- Despite playing just three reserves, South Carolina held a 24-3 advantage in points from the bench.
TWEET OF THE GAME