In the face of adversity on the road, Auburn didn't fold, and the Tigers defeated South Carolina Gamecocks, 74-71, at Colonial Life Arena Saturday for its third consecutive win.
That was a game Auburn fans haven't been accustomed to seeing their Tigers winning. The officiating was awful on both sides, but Carolina freshman Michael Carrera took advantage of the quick whistles and drew several cheap fouls, giving the Gamecocks an advantage. Auburn was 4-27 on the road under head coach Tony Barbee prior to the game, and winning in a hostile environment was not something the Tigers really knew how to do. Because of the ticky-tack officiating and flopping Carrera, several Tigers were in foul trouble for most of the game, including Noel Johnson, who was hot from the three-point line but fouled out with roughly nine minutes to play. Oh yeah, and Auburn was playing without two key contributors, Chris Denson and Jordan Price.
Despite all of those potential excuses for a tough, close loss, Auburn won. Auburn won a game in which the Tigers had to make their own luck. It's been a long time since Auburn basketball fans have been able to celebrate a win like that.
Any number of players could get the game ball for the Tigers (8-7, 2-0 SEC), but senior center Rob Chubb deserves it most. Chubb had five turnovers in the first half, but he settled down in the second and finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He was battling with Carrera down low, and even though the Carolina forward was flopping and baiting fouls all game, Chubb never got frustrated or lost his cool. And in the end, his play caused Carrera to foul out. More importantly, on an afternoon when Auburn was struggling from the free throw line, Chubb made 8-of-9. If he had been shooting foul shots at his normal 52.9 percent clip, Auburn would have lost.
Frankie Sullivan got off to a slow start, but he too came on strong in the second half. Sullivan had 17 points and knocked down two big threes to give momentum back to Auburn when Carrera was seemingly drawing fouls on everyone in an orange uniform. Sullivan added four rebounds and made several great passes that set up Auburn scores, totaling five assists.
The most surprising contributor on offense for Auburn was freshman point guard Brian Greene Jr., who scored 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-2 from behind the arc. Auburn needed every point it could get, and the Tigers relied on several players to take over at different points in the game. Greene was able to get in on the act in the second half, scoring 10 points and giving Auburn a boost it absolutely had to have.
It may not have been Auburn's highest point total of the season, but Saturday's win featured the best offensive performance so far for the Tigers. Auburn shot 58.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three, and five Tigers scored eight or more points.
For South Carolina (10-5, 0-2), running back -- er, point guard -- Bruce Ellington led the way with 18 points, and he added five assists, two steals and one rebound. Damien Leonard contributed 17 points and nine rebounds, and Lakeem Jackson finished with 10 points, three assists, two rebounds and a steal. Carrera, before karma caught up with him and he fouled out, had six points, seven rebounds, two blocks and 25 fouls against (that last number is an estimate).
Once again, rebounding was a problem for the Tigers. South Carolina won the battle, 29-20, and the Gamecocks pulled down 16 offensive boards, compared to just seven for Auburn. Auburn grabbed nine steals, somewhat nullifying those extra possessions for Carolina, but Auburn still has a lot of work to do on the glass. Too many times Auburn defenders were simply watching the shot in the air, allowing Gamecock players to get in position and corral the miss. That's a pretty basic fundamental that most of Barbee's players are failing to execute right now. The head coach needs to find a way to remedy the problem in practice, or it's going to come back to bite the Tigers.
On the road in conference play, all you can hope for is a win, no matter how ugly it may be. For Auburn to get an SEC win away from home -- the Tigers went all last season without one -- it shows that the team really is making progress. They're 2-0 in SEC play for the first time since the 2002-03 season, which was probably the last time the consistently played this well. If Auburn can keep it up, there's no telling what this team can accomplish this season.
Next up for the Tigers is another road game, this time at Fayetteville against Arkansas. Tipoff is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT, and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.