Tigers try for Fifth Straight Win against the Gamecocks
Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Riding a four game win streak, Bruce Pearl and his sixteenth nationality ranked team head to Colonial Life Arena to take on an inconsistent South Carolina Gamecock squad that they’ve won five in a row against, dating back to the 2018-19 season. The Gamecocks have struggled in league play with a 1-4 start, in their first season with Lamont Paris at the helm. Outside of Dennis Gates at Missouri, Auburn will have faced all of the first-year head coaches in the SEC in its first seven games of the season (Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU and South Carolina).
"Georgia's guards played great, and we kind of pointed out that in our three losses this year — Memphis USC and Georgia — that the guard play was a factor,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said. “And our guards took that to heart, and Wendell took that to heart. Wendell has won his matchup almost every night. It's not about just his matchup, because our guards are responsible for different, matching up against different guards, but I think since the Georgia game, our guards have outplayed their competition."
Auburn’s recent success in SEC play, following the loss at Georgia, can largely be attributed to the massive improvement of the guard play, starting with Wendell Green Jr. Green recording his fourth straight double digit performance in league play with 14 points, including another perfect night from the free throw line (3-3) at LSU on
Wednesday. He has now gone 23-for-23 over the last four SEC games for the Tigers, including his last two makes against then No. 13 ranked Arkansas. Green is shooting a league-best 84.5 percent from the charity stripe this season.
But, Green hasn’t been the only guard to step up following the only loss in league play so far, KD Johnson tied his season high in SEC play in Baton Rouge with 8 points and had a conference play high two steals. Zep Jasper, former transfer from the College of Charleston, has had five points in three of the five SEC games so far for Auburn. While the box score statistics don’t jump off the page for Jasper, his tenacious defense has been a major key to the Tigers recent success.
"We're picking up on our roles and seeing what guys can take what shots and what shots guys can’t take,” said Zep Jasper. “So I think we have improved on that a lot. Also, rebounding. We started boxing out more, pushing into transition and things have started opening up for our offense.”
The Tigers are currently ranked No. 11 in the nation in defensive efficiency and No. 23 in offensive rebounding (14.9). Auburn also grabbed 30 defensive rebounds at LSU, making it the fourth time this season over 30 rebounds, Northwestern (31), Saint Louis (34) and Washington (31). The defense led the way against the purple and gold Tigers on Wednesday holding LSU to 29.3 percent from the field, the lowest allowed by an Auburn team in league play in 12 years, and only giving up 49 points, the fewest points scored by LSU at home in the last 15 years. Auburn has now held back to back SEC foes to the second and third fewest first half points by an opponent this season: LSU (2nd, 21 points) and Mississippi State (3rd, 22 points).
"(Defense at LSU) speaks tremendously to the defensive effort and concentration we have focused on in the last couple games in the SEC, just talking and being over-communicative on defense. You know, just boxing out and guys making plays, not just playing defense trying to make plays,” said Allen Flanigan.
Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Jaylin Williams will once again be a large factor in today’s matchup with South Carolina. Williams has three straight double figure performances with 14 points and shooting 6-13 from the field most recently on the road against the bayou bengals. Perhaps the biggest development with Williams has been his shot from deep shooting 40.7 percent including a 5-7 three point performance against Mississippi State last Saturday in Neville Arena.
"They keep coming (in the SEC). Auburn's going to come in here, and they don't care. They could care less about what happened (in the Ole Miss loss). They're going to come in here and try to beat us as badly as they can,” said South Carolina head coach Lamont Paris, “So you have to move forward. You can't lick your wounds for 10 days, go back into the lab and get it all figured it out and feel comfy and cozy again. It's a tough deal, but it's a great deal."
The Gamecocks are led by five star freshman Gregory “GG” Jackson II, leading the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game and rebounds with 6.6 per game. The potential NBA Lottery pick is the only freshman in the league leading his respective team in both categories. South Carolina’s senior guard, Chico Carter Jr. is shooting 48.6 percent (36-74) this season from long range.
"Our league is competitive and in some ways been a little wacky,” Pearl said. “Which team to get ready for — the one that beat Clemson? Clemson’s leading the ACC right now. The team that won at Rupp and made a bunch of 3s and played great? You know, or a team that’s right now kind of 1-4 in the league with a win at Rupp? So, obviously, we’re going to try to get ready for the team that beat Clemson and beat Kentucky."
The Tigers and Gamecocks are scheduled to tipoff inside of Colonial Life Arena at 2:30pm CST with more than 35 members of “The Jungle” present among the “witnesses” to cheer on the Tigers on Saturday. Today’s matchup will be televised on the SEC Network and can be heard on the Auburn Sports Network.