COLUMBIA, S.C. — Even with plenty of basketball to complete, everybody on Auburn’s sideline would’ve said they lost this game after the first 14 minutes.
With exactly six minutes remaining in the first half of an 84-75 Auburn loss, the Tigers’ Mustapha Heron went in for a dunk. As Heron sprinted down the floor, the sophomore glanced up at the scoreboard to realize Auburn was already down 37-13 to South Carolina and a rally would’ve taken a Herculean effort.
"We have to clear our minds of this loss right now and come to practice knowing every team in this league is good," Auburn forward Desean Murray said. "We came out in that first half and just didn't play very good defense (and) their pressure really threw our offense off."
Auburn attempted such a second-half comeback and had South Carolina’s lead all the way down to just five with just under seven minutes to play. However, the Gamecocks managed to hang on to beat a ranked SEC school for the third time this season.
The puzzling results of the college basketball season continued and have now included Auburn. The No. 10-ranked Tigers (23-4, 11-3 SEC) looked lost, overmatched and outplayed in a first half Saturday. And it came against South Carolina (14-13, 5-9), which came to Colonial Life Arena in a three-way tie for the bottom spot in the Southeastern Conference after having suffered six straight losses.
Another Auburn slow start in a first half finally nipped the Tigers as they made 6 of 24 from the field, sank only 1 of 11 from 3-point range, and committed nine turnovers. It was easily the worst opening 20 minutes of basketball from Auburn since likely its last trip to Columbia, S.C. Last year, the Gamecocks beat the Tigers on the same court 98-69 after leading 48-27 at halftime.
"I told (South Carolina head coach Frank Martin) that he's got my number. This is back-to-back slap arounds," Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said Saturday. "Obviously he's got some things figured out on what we do and how to stop us because we've struggled to score (against the Gamecocks)."
On Saturday, Auburn trailed 46-25 at intermission, and even a 50-point second half wasn’t enough.
"We just didn't bring that defensive mindset today and they took advantage of it," Murray said. "We didn't bring it at all. It was too big of a hole."
The afternoon got a lot worse for an Auburn squad already undersized and lacking depth in the front court. Anfernee McLemore, who came into the weekend leading the SEC in blocked shots, suffered a devastating dislocated ankle on a rebound attempt with 7:12 seconds left in the first half.
The sophomore forward was carted off on a stretcher with an air cast on his left leg. An Auburn spokesperson confirmed the injury is a dislocation of McLemore’s left ankle, and he was taken to a nearby hospital in Columbia for further medical care. The injury looked serious enough to be long-term but no prognosis will be given until at least Auburn returns home from this weekend road trip.
South Carolina was led by the double-double effort of Chris Silva as the sophomore forward finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Silva’s off-balanced leaner while drawing a foul on Desean Murray essentially sealed the Gamecocks’ first victory since Jan. 24 when they knocked off then-No. 22 Florida in the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.
Auburn’s Jared Harper, who was ninth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, struggled for nearly the entire 33 minutes he was on the floor. The sophomore point guard fouled out 23 seconds left after committing a season-high nine turnovers and passing out just one assist. The combination of Harper, Mustapha Heron and Bryce Brown were 8 of 36 and 3 of 19 from 3-point range.