Thornwell, No. 22 South Carolina hold off Auburn 81-69
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - South Carolina kept its cool down the stretch in Southeastern Conference play much like the Gamecocks have done all season.
Sindarius Thornwell scored a season-high 22 points and the 22nd-ranked Gamecocks calmly fought off a second-half challenge to beat Auburn 81-69 on Tuesday night in the Gamecocks' SEC opener.
Sporting their highest AP ranking in 18 years, the Gamecocks (14-0, 1-0) lost most of an 18-point first-half lead before building it back with inside baskets and foul shots. It was just another milestone for a team that's hoping to sustain this success into March.
The Gamecocks and SMU are the only undefeated teams remaining in Division I.
''There's no doubt in their minds about our team,'' South Carolina coach Frank Martin said. ''There's none. Zero. I didn't want to start bad in league play because I don't want any doubt to creep into their minds.
''They're playing aggressively. They're playing confidently. They enjoy playing with each other and I wanted to make sure that there's not a cloud that comes in there to create any doubt on anyone on our team.''
Thornwell made 5 of 8 3-point attempts and produced his season-high point total for the second straight game after scoring 18 against Memphis.
Laimonas Chatkevicius added 12 points and 10 rebounds for South Carolina. Duane Notice and Michael Carrera both scored 12 and Marcus Stroman had 10.
The Tigers (7-6, 1-1) kept it close largely with Tyler Harris' inside play and Kareem Canty's five 3-pointers. Harris was 10 of 13 from the field for 22 points and Canty scored 21 points and had five assists.
''Very disappointing effort,'' Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. ''We're playing a team that's undefeated and we're playing at home. It takes about 10 minutes before we really turned it up and started to compete.''
The Gamecocks shot 50 percent from the field and harried Auburn into 21 turnovers (while committing 19) that led to 28 points.
South Carolina hasn't been ranked this high since rising to No. 5 in 1998. The Gamecocks are enjoying their longest winning streak since the 1979-80 team won 17 straight.
This one didn't come without a second-half threat. Auburn wiped out most of the Gamecocks' 18-point first-half lead with Harris' inside baskets and a 3-point barrage.
Auburn scored nine straight points, six from Harris and a 3-pointer by Brown, to close within 59-54 midway through the second half. The Gamecocks were still nursing a single-digit lead in the final 5 minutes before pounding it inside either for baskets or free throws most of the rest of the way.
The Tigers made 12 of 30 3-point attempts, including four quick ones coming out of halftime.
South Carolina still managed to keep its winning ways going into league play.
''It's big for us to start off with a win, especially with a win away because that's been a big problem with us,'' Thornwell said.
South Carolina: Martin is 2-4 against Auburn. It was the Gamecocks' first road win in an SEC opener since beating Auburn on Jan. 9, 2010.
Auburn: Has lost 15 straight games to ranked opponents and 21 of the last 22.
FREEBIES: The Gamecocks didn't approach the school-record 63 free throw attempts from the Memphis game, but did capitalize on trips to the line. South Carolina was 22 of 28 and Stroman made all eight of his attempts.
HOT HARRIS: Harris made his first nine field goal tries. He was 6 for 6 in the first half when the rest of the Auburn team was 5 of 19. He had nine of Auburn's 12 2-point baskets.
TURNOVER FEST: South Carolina built much of its first-half lead with defense and Auburn mistakes. The Gamecocks collected 15 turnovers leading to 23 points.
''They were getting a really good run off our turnovers and that really affected us in the first half,'' Harris said.
South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Auburn visits Missouri on Saturday.