COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina started a three-guard lineup with no center. Auburn’s Johni Broome noticed.
The Tigers’ 6-foot-10 center had a season-high 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead No. 16 Auburn to an 81-66 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
After two straight games in which Broome scored a total of 10 points on a combined 10 shots, the Tigers got their big man back on track.
“We like to start off early and put the pressure on them,” Broome said. “I’ve had a couple of rough games, so it was good to get going.”
Auburn (16-3, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) also got 16 points from Wendell Green and 12 from Jaylin Williams in its fifth straight win after a discouraging loss at Georgia by weathering a couple of South Carolina rallies.
The Gamecocks (8-11, 1-5) posted an 18-3 run and only trailed by 10 with eight minutes to go, but Auburn responded with its own 12-4 run and sent South Carolina to its third straight double-digit loss.
The Gamecocks sprung an upset over Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Jan. 10 and were coming home for three straight games, but lost all of them convincingly. South Carolina has not led any SEC home game at any point this season.
“South Carolina owns two of the most impressive wins in our league — Kentucky and Clemson,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I thought we had good defense, I thought we got offense off defense. Looked the part, right? We just didn’t maintain that, to give South Carolina credit.”
Freshman forward Gregory “GG” Jackson broke loose for 30 points, but didn’t get much help; sharpshooting guard Meechie Johnson scored 11 points, but was 2 for 11 from the field.
Auburn took control early, but the Gamecocks were still in the game despite shooting less than 20% from the floor and not hitting a field goal for more than five minutes in the first half. But the Tigers went on a 12-3 run to close the first half and stretched the lead to 26 points in the second.
South Carolina hit 20 field goals, and Jackson had 10 of them.
“God is putting me and my teammates through a very, very big test, but he showed what we could be capable of in that Kentucky game,” Jackson said.
Broome hit 12 of his 17 shots in 30 minutes for his sixth double-double this season and fifth against an SEC opponent.
Auburn: The Tigers are hunting, having won five straight and about to head back home where they’ll have a chance to extend the nation’s longest active home winning streak. Auburn has won its last 28 games at Auburn Arena and took over the lead after Gonzaga lost at home to Loyola Marymount on Jan. 19 to end a 75-game home winning streak.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are simply trying to be competent in their first season under coach Lamont Paris. A .500 record for the season would be considered very successful, considering he took over a team so bereft of talent that even adding an NBA prospect in Jackson wasn’t going to offer much help.
Auburn has won two straight road SEC games by at least 15 points for the first time since 1966.
“It was a good response,” Pearl said. “Wendell had a lot to do with it. I thought the play of Allen Flanigan will go tremendously unnoticed. He continues to just stay patient offensively and be unselfish. He plays again without a turnover.”
The Tigers may move into the Top 15 after a few more upsets this week. Fifteenth-ranked Connecticut has lost its last three games, but No. 14 TCU is poised to leap higher after destroying Kansas on Saturday.
Auburn returns home to play Texas A&M on Wednesday night.
South Carolina goes to Florida on Wednesday night.