Allen Payne is looking for another win against South Carolina (Anthony Hall photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. --
The issue hasn't been playing it close for the Auburn basketball team. The Tigers have done that. They pushed No. 1 Florida to the limit twice, and have either led or been within four points of their opponents at halftime in 10 SEC games.
The issue has been finishing the job.
Auburn will carry a 4-10 SEC record into Wednesday's 8 p.m. game against South Carolina in Auburn Arena after seeing a 7-point halftime advantage against Vanderbilt turn into an 8-point loss last Saturday.
"Since Saturday, that has been a big point of focus," say forward Allen Payne. "We have to start finishing guys off. Once we get them down, they are not just going to go away, we're all fighting for our lives at this time of the year. It has been a big point of emphasis. We have to stay on the gas pedal, keep our foot down and keep doing what we're doing."
The Vanderbilt game may be Exhibit A. Auburn led the Commodores by 16 in the first half, but that wasn't enough to withstand the Commodores hitting 10 3-pointers in the second half.
"It has been a bad habit with this team," said coach Tony Barbee. "Look at Florida at Florida. The lead we had at halftime and the first four minutes of the second half they come right back into the game. It's something we are working on and dealing with in practice.
"We are working on those things, trying to maintain our intensity in practice all the way throughout at a high level so then in a game we won't have a dip."
The good news for Auburn now is the Tigers have already beaten South Carolina once, 79-74. But the Tigers and Gamecocks are still jockeying for SEC Tournament seeding, now with four regular-season games remaining. Auburn has its four SEC wins and a 12-13 overall record. South Carolina is 10-17 overall and 3-11 in the league.
Those numbers don't mean as much to Payne as what the Tigers can accomplish Wednesday night.
"I understand that we are playing for a seed right now, but we can't focus on that," he says. "At this point in the season we could still finish with a four-game winning streak going into the SEC Tournament and that's our focus."
Vandy hit 11 3-pointers Saturday. South Carolina hit seven against the Tigers on Feb. 5. Auburn remembers that. Benton Williams hit six of those.
"We will be locked in on him and trying to get him off the line," Payne said. "It hurt us against Vanderbilt, that's how they got back in the game in the second half. It will be important for us, but mainly we are worried about rebounding and keeping people out of the paint."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: