Two weeks ago, South Carolina was unranked.
Now it sits at No. 11 in the AP poll while also holding the top spot in the Southeastern Conference as it prepares for a road meeting with No. 13 Auburn on Wednesday night.
Coach Lamont Paris’ Gamecocks (21-3, 9-2 SEC) have authored a seven-game winning streak that includes a 17-point drubbing of then-No. 6 Kentucky on Jan. 23 and a 63-59 victory over then-No. 5 Tennessee a week later. Their latest victory came on Saturday, a 75-60 showing against Vanderbilt where South Carolina outscored the Commodores 47-28 in the second half.
Freshman Collin Murray-Boyles pumped in a career-high 31 points on 14-of-17 shooting while adding seven rebounds. Wofford transfer B.J. Mack added five 3-pointers and 18 points.
“There’s a reason it’s a 40-minute game and you don’t get judged until the clock hits zeroes,” Paris said. “We came out in the second half and started doing more kinds of our things that we’ve done. The main message was that this is your team and I’m along for the ride to push the buttons.”
Most of the buttons Paris has pushed have worked perfectly, as South Carolina is among the top 51 teams in the nation in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com metrics.
The Gamecocks have shown the ability to win in different ways, like they did Saturday. Leading scorer Meechie Johnson managed just six points, well under his season average of 14.1 points per game. Ta’Lon Cooper, who is averaging 10.2 points, was limited to five against Vanderbilt.
But Murray-Boyles (8.9 points per game this season) came up with a career game that earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
“I just play to play,” Murray-Boyles said. “I was in the right spots. My teammates got me the ball. That wasn’t just me. That was my teammates making reads and then coach Paris and them calling out plays for me to get open sometimes.”
While South Carolina kept rolling, Auburn (19-5, 8-3) saw its three-game winning streak end with barely a whimper on Saturday as Florida drilled the Tigers 81-65 in Gainesville, Fla. The Gators jumped out to a 13-2 lead and were up by as many as 29 in the second half before the Tigers made things somewhat respectable at the end.
But Auburn coach Bruce Pearl knew better than to slap a happy face on the effort.
“There were a lot of things that we really talked about doing that we just did not get done,” Pearl said. “Like, holy cow. What have we been doing the last day and a half?”
It was another reminder of how tough SEC life can be.
The Tigers were coming off a 99-81 rout of then-No. 16 Alabama at home on Feb. 7, but they simply couldn’t replicate that kind of offensive efficiency at Florida. Auburn got 14 points from Johni Broome but just 20 from the rest of its starters combined.
Broome leads the Tigers with 16.0 points per game this season. He is shooting 55.5 percent from the field.
Wednesday marks the only meeting this season between the teams. Auburn leads the all-time series 30-19.
–Field Level Media
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