Auburn in search of South Carolina redemption
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — South Carolina gives Auburn bad memories.
Last season, Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome leg injury in the loss that put a serious damper on the rest of Auburn's season hopes. This year, Austin Wiley went down just before the South Carolina game, which forced an undersized center rotation of McLemore and Horace Spencer to play more minutes. Both players ended up fouling out against the Gamecocks in their increased roles. Auburn lost by 3.
Bruce Pearl knows to expect a tough matchup against the league's No. 4 seed when the two sides meet again Friday afternoon.
"Frank Martin has my number, not just my phone number, but my number," Bruce Pearl said. "I think he's won three out of the last five, something along those lines. What they do defensively bothers us. They extend. Makes it hard to run your stuff. You overplay."
To be exact: Auburn has lost four of its last five against South Carolina since 2016.
Those defeats came in a myriad of ways, falling by 3, 9, 12 and 29 in those games. The one win in the stretch shields some of that. Auburn beat South Carolina by 9 to finish last season as SEC regular-season co-champions. But when Pearl and Tigers players talk about South Carolina, they tend to focus on the bad more than the good, remembering the struggles they've had against the Gamecocks in recent history.
They mention the hard-nosed physicality, and specifically, they talk about South Carolina big man Chris Silva.
"They're physical, they're tough. Silva is a major factor, how the officials referee him is huge. He's so active, athletic, bouncy. He gets himself into some trouble, he draws a lot of fouls. Draws a lot of contact," Pearl said. "I remember we had a chance when we went to South Carolina. Had a couple last possessions. They got the better of us."
Silva is most remember for his performance against Auburn earlier this season.
In Auburn's 80-77 loss, Silva put for his best game of the 2018-19 season. He scored 32 points and added 14 rebounds.
Perhaps the most telling stat, however, was Silva's free-throw frequency. He went to the free-throw line 11 times and only missed once. McLemore and Spencer found themselves in foul trouble quickly and, by the end of the game — without Wiley — both of Auburn's centers were on the bench with five fouls.
Objective No. 1 to beat the Gamecocks: Avoid that same foul trouble.
"We’ve got to be more able to play to (Silva) — and not foul," Spencer said. "He shoots a lot of free throws. Early foul trouble is what really got to us. We couldn’t touch him and he was physical with us. We can’t blame the refs; we’ve got to play through that."