Auburn came home on short rest and beat South Carolina 71-68. The Florida game--as games against Billy Donovan coached teams usually are--was physical and nasty. Forty-eight hours later, Auburn had to suit up against another physical, nasty team South Carolina. South Carolina stayed in Auburn's face on defense. They kept pressure on the ball in their 2-3 extended zone while still denying Auburn lanes to drive to the rim.
Auburn's fatigue started to show in the second half. South Carolina stormed back from a ten point halftime deficit to take a five point lead before:
Auburn rode the momentum of this play to close the game on a 14-2 run to put the game out of reach.
So what did we learn?
1. Auburn's crowd is a difference maker. It's been a long time since Auburn has had a true home court advantage. Auburn's crowd was loud all night. The crowd was loud when they were supposed to be loud and quiet when they should be quiet. When Auburn started slow and you began wondering if we were about to get run out of the gym, the noise started to build. Just like that, Auburn went from a 6 point hole to a 10 point half time lead. Auburn faded down the stretch and had the chance to give the game away but the crowd wouldn't let them. Auburn's basketball team has fans they can be proud of.
2. Free throws made the difference and for once, it was a good difference. Auburn got to the line more than South Carolina and hit a good percentage of their shots when they were there. Seriously, Auburn went to the line 33 times and hit 26, over 78%! South Carolina went 8-15 but most of those free throws came late. If Auburn hit their season average, we don't win this game tonight. Of course, at the end of the game, as I'm writing this up, Cinmeon Bowers steps to the line for two and . . .
Oh well, don't have to hit them all. Keep hitting 78% and I'll be happy. Related only in terms of who was that team tonight, Auburn outrebounded USCe 36-34. Wonderfully strange stat line for this Auburn team.
3. Auburn isn't built to press. Bruce Pearl has been heard to say that he wants a devastating press but that this Auburn team's press is just annoying. In the first half, it was barely that. South Carolina go a lot of easy points early in the first half by breaking the press. When Auburn moved away from the zone, they locked down South Carolina for the rest of the half. The same pattern held true in the second half. Bruce Pearl is known for an aggressive, pressing style of play. Auburn will be known for that too, just not this year.
For Auburn, KT led the way with 24 points, including four threes and a perfect 8-8 from the line. Antoine Mason added 14 and carried Auburn through an early scoring drought. Bowers had another double-double (barely) with 10 points and 10 boards. My favorite Bowers highlight of the night was an assist:
Side note: I listened to the first half on the radio. If you haven't listened to the Auburn radio feed in a while, do so. Sonny Smith is one of he best color commentators out there. He knows a lot about the game and is hilarious. Best line of the night from Smith was when he said South Carolina's Michael Carerra "tranferred in from the WWE." Listening to Coach Smith is an education about what's happening on the floor. He's forgotten more about basketball than the rest of us will ever know.
Auburn gets three nights off before hosting a suddenly resurgent Mississippi State Wednesday. In case you missed it, Miss State snapped its 16 game SEC losing streak today with a win over Vandy at the Hump. CLANGARANG! Let's keep the party going and pack out the Arena two games in a row.