COLUMBIA — This time, Auburn’s Rob Chubb brought his shoes and his game to South Carolina.
Chubb scored 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as the Tigers (8-7, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) beat the Gamecocks 74-71 on Saturday, It was the senior’s best SEC game since scoring 18 points two years ago in size 16 shoes he borrowed from the South Carolina equipment manager in another win for Auburn.
Chubb said he watched and made sure his manager packed his shoes this time, then enjoyed a game where the Tigers finally looked like a team that can crawl out from the bottom of the SEC, where they have been hanging the last few seasons.
“It is starting to look like everything is coming together. This team has got chemistry,” Chubb said.
Frankie Sullivan led Auburn with 17 points as the Tigers survived 27 lead changes to start the SEC season 2-0 for the first time in 10 seasons. Auburn had started 0-2 in the SEC the past five years.
The Tigers took the lead for good after Sullivan’s two free throws with 2:41 to go put them up 73-71. Chubb missed one of two free throws with 35.2 seconds left, giving South Carolina (10-5, 0-2) one last chance.
Brian Richardson missed a fairly open 3-pointer with 10 seconds left and Bruce Ellington forced up another 3-pointer that didn’t have a chance against a double team as the Gamecocks started SEC play 0-2 for a second year in a row.
It was the second consecutive game in which Ellington couldn’t get off a good shot on South Carolina’s final possession. But he looked a lot less rusty than he did in the SEC opener against Mississippi State, leading the Gamecocks with 18 points.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said Ellington is still learning plenty, including his defensive schemes, but has to be out there for the Gamecocks to have a chance.
“He’s got a lot of pride and he likes to win. And he is not scared to make a play. Based on the last couple days of practice, I knew he’d play a lot better today,” Martin said.
Damien Leonard added 17 points and nine rebounds for South Carolina.
Auburn coach Tony Barbee said he is glad to see his team play tougher and grittier after a nonconference schedule that included losses to Rhode Island and Winthrop.
“We are still getting closer. We are still not a finished product, but we are getting closer,” Barbee said.
Auburn shot 58.5 percent (24 of 41) but turned over the ball 17 times to keep South Carolina in it. Brian Greene Jr. scored 14 points, making all six of his shots, two of them behind the arc.
The referees called 47 fouls, making the game ragged at times. The Tigers were called for four fouls during a 20-second stretch early in the second half and were whistled for several illegal screens that led them to get a bit tentative running their offense.
“Whenever it gets pretty close and we have bad calls and stuff like that, we’ve never really fought like we did today,” Chubb said.
Sullivan hit back-to-back 3-pointers after the foul-filled possession to give the Tigers their biggest lead of the game at 46-42 with 16 minutes left.
But Sullivan missed a pair of free throws the next trip down and Leonard buried a 3-pointer. The Gamecocks would eventually build a 61-57 lead on Leonard’s fifth 3 of the game with eight minutes to go.
Chubb got a layup inside the next trip down, and neither team would lead by three again until Chubb’s final free throw.
The normally fiery Martin, who is in his first season at South Carolina, praised his guards and had only gentle criticism for his big men. His starting frontcourt had just six of the team’s 31 rebounds.
“Our guys are trying. They really are,” Martin said.
Auburn will try to stay on top of the SEC with a game at Arkansas before hosting Kentucky, as the rest of the SEC will soon know if Chubb is right and the Tigers aren’t one the league’s easy wins this season.
“The way we are playing, we are going to be a formidable opponent to anybody,” Chubb said. “There’s not going to be anybody that can come in a beat us without grinding it out.”
AUBURN (8-7): Chubb 4-5 8-9 16, Payne 4-7 0-2 8, S. Johnson 1-2 2-4 5, Wallace 0-1 1-2 1, Sullivan 5-13 5-9 17, Dixon-Tatum 1-1 2-2 4, Spencer 0-0 0-0 0, Greene Jr. 6-6 0-0 14, Granger 0-0 0-0 0, N. Johnson 3-6 0-0 9. Totals 24-41 18-28 74.
SOUTH CAROLINA (10-5): Kacinas 2-3 2-2 6, Jackson 4-7 2-4 10, Richardson 0-4 0-0 0, Smith 3-6 2-4 10, Ellington 8-15 1-1 18, Williams 0-3 0-0 0, Chatkevicius 0-0 0-0 0, Carrera 1-5 4-4 6, Leonard 6-9 0-1 17, Slawson 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 26-57 11-16 71.
Halftime–South Carolina 39-38. 3-Point Goals–Auburn 8-18 (N. Johnson 3-6, Greene Jr. 2-2, Sullivan 2-7, S. Johnson 1-2, Payne 0-1), South Carolina 8-20 (Leonard 5-8, Smith 2-4, Ellington 1-4, Slawson 0-1, Williams 0-1, Richardson 0-2). Fouled Out–Carrera, N. Johnson. Rebounds–Auburn 24 (Chubb 10), South Carolina 31 (Leonard 9). Assists–Auburn 14 (Wallace 7), South Carolina 20 (Carrera, Ellington 5). Total Fouls–Auburn 23, South Carolina 24. A–9,117.