AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – The Auburn Tigers absorbed a few punches after building a big lead, but never wobbled this time.
Chris Denson scored 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting to help the Tigers beat South Carolina 83-67 on Wednesday night in a foul-filled slugfest. There was nothing close to a repeat of the last game, when Auburn blew a 16-point lead before losing to Vanderbilt.
“They made runs, but I thought we did a better job of handling foul trouble or any adversity with the so-called physical nature of the game and whatever happens with the whistle,” Tigers coach Tony Barbee said.
“We didn’t let it turn into, say, a Vandy. That small run or the dip in our intensity didn’t turn into something bigger.”
Allen Payne had 15 points and Tahj Shamsid-Deen added 14 for the Tigers (13-13, 5-10 Southeastern Conference) in a battle between two of the bottom three teams in the league standings. Auburn won both regular-season meetings.
“We had no energy on the defensive end the last game against Vanderbilt, but we had energy tonight,” Denson said.
The Gamecocks (10-18, 3-12) lost their third straight game despite getting 26 points from Brenton Williams. Williams made 5 of 9 3-pointers while Mindaugas Kacina scored 10 points.
They’re 0-11 in opponents’ arenas this season.
Auburn made 25 of 48 shots (52.1 percent) to snap a two-game skid.
“We aren’t guarding the ball,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. “In the game of basketball, if you don’t put up a fight guarding the guy with the ball, you’ve got no chance. Unfortunately, that’s what is happening to us right now.”
South Carolina fell behind by as much as 20 in the second half despite shooting 59.1 percent (13 of 22) after halftime.
The Gamecocks committed 20 turnovers but held a 36-25 advantage in rebounds, led by Michael Carrera’s 13 boards.
The game turned into a foul-fest with 53 combined fouls and 60 free throw attempts. Auburn’s Shamsid-Deen and Jordon Granger were also called for technicals in the second half. The referees even ejected a fan, something Denson said he hadn’t seen “since high school.”
The Gamecocks cut a 20-point Auburn lead in half late. Brian Steele hit a 3-pointer to bring South Carolina to within 75-65 with 3:16 left, but the Tigers then pulled away.
They made 25 of 35 free throws in the game. The crowd of 4,414 was the smallest for any SEC game in the four-year history of Auburn Arena.
Auburn’s KT Harrell had an off night, making 2 of 8 shots and scoring 11 points, nearly eight below his season average. Shamsid-Deen and Dion Wade both hit three 3-pointers to help pick up some of his slack from the perimeter.
Outside of Williams, who scored 55 points in the two meetings, South Carolina made just 1 of 11 from 3-point range.
“They weren’t really good shooters, so we just stand back,” Denson said. “Besides Williams. That was their main man. We had a lot of slipups by letting him get them off tonight.”
Sindarius Thornwell was 2-of-13 shooting for four points, 10 below his average.
Shamsid-Deen hit three consecutive 3-pointers to push Auburn’s 12-point halftime lead to 50-31 early in the second half.
Then he was called for a technical after a foul call. He went to the bench with four fouls and nearly 16 minutes to play and Auburn still up 18.
“I didn’t ask for an explanation and the officials didn’t offer any,” Barbee said. “They weren’t talking to me, I guess, at that time.”
The Gamecocks cut the deficit to 53-42 within the next 75 seconds with a 10-3 run but couldn’t get any closer until the final minutes.
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