On the road for the third time in its last four games, No. 16 Auburn used a strong first half to take command over South Carolina, staving off a second-half rally attempt by the Gamecocks in an 81-66 win.
“We, obviously, respected our opponent,” said head coach Bruce Pearl. “Played well early, which you have to do. Our starters did a really good job. Give South Carolina credit, they never quit.”
It was Auburn’s sixth straight win over the Gamecocks — the Tigers’ longest active streak against an SEC opponent.
After two straight games of being held to single digits in scoring and rebounding, Johni Broome erupted for a 27-point, 11-rebound performance. It was Broome’s sixth double-double and fifth in conference play. His 27 points were the most scored by an Auburn player this season, surpassing Wendell Green Jr.’s 23-point game at Ole Miss.
“I’ve had a couple of rough games and it was good to just get going early,” Broome said. “Coach made good play calls to get me going.”
Green Jr. turned in a double-double of his own, scoring 16 points and dishing out 12 assists, his most as an Auburn Tiger. Eight of his assists were to Broome.
“It boosts the whole team’s confidence (when Green Jr. plays well). He had 12 assists,” Broome said. “(Green Jr.) is a special point guard. Everybody knows he can score but I think his passing is a little bit underrated. He proved that tonight.”
Auburn (16-3, 6-1 SEC) made half of its shots, shooting 30-for-60 from the field. The Tigers dominated their hosts in the paint, outscoring the Gamecocks 46-20 in the key. The Tigers were not as successful from 3-point range, making just three of their 17 attempts.
Two of Auburn’s three makes from behind the arc belonged to Yohan Traore, who scored eight points — his most since scoring the same amount against Colgate on December 2. It was Traore’s first game with multiple 3-point makes and marked his first 3-pointers of conference play.
"(Traore) has had a couple of good practices,” Pearl said. “He absolutely has stayed the course. Those shots in the corner, that's kind of his corner.”
The Tigers got off to a fast start as Broome and Green Jr. combined for nine points before the first media timeout, setting the stage for a dominant first-half performance.
“We like to start off early and put the pressure on them,” Broome said. “We work on those looks in practice and it was good to see those looks go in.”
The Tigers shot 57.1% in the first half, markedly superior to South Carolina’s 25.8% first-half shooting clip. The Tigers closed the first 20 minutes on a 15-4 run and built a 17-point lead at the break.
“When you hold South Carolina to 22 points (in the first half) and you shoot 57% yourself, that's the formula for a good lead,” Pearl said.
The story of the second half was scoring runs. The Tigers started the half the way they ended the first, opening the frame with a 12-3 run to extend their lead to 26 points with 15:16 to play. Then, the Gamecocks (8-11, 1-5 SEC) began to rally. Over the next 7:07, the Tigers were outscored 23-7, as their lead dwindled to 10.
“I feel like we got a little stagnant,” Broome said. “We were a little late to spots. We didn’t jump out and force them to take tougher shots. We fouled them too much. They shot like 19 free throws in the second half.”
Over the final 8:09, Auburn had the game’s final scoring run, outscoring its host 23-15 to pull away for a 15-point road win. While Green Jr.’s performance helped the Tigers pull away from their foe, Pearl credited Allen Flanigan with helping the Tigers withstand the comeback attempt.
“Wendell had a lot to do with (withstanding the run) -- making shots, making plays. I thought the play of Allen Flanigan will go tremendously unnoticed,” Pearl said. "Al (Flanigan) was once again our best defensive rebounder. Al was once again our best defender. He hardly ever got stuck. He continues to just be patient offensively, and unselfish.”
After a week on the road, the Tigers will return home to face Texas A&M on Wednesday. Tip-off from Neville Arena, where Auburn has won an NCAA-best 28 straight games, will be at 8 p.m. CST and will be televised on ESPN2.
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Matthew is a senior from Huntsville, Alabama, majoring in journalism. He started with The Plainsman in fall 2021.