Auburn Loses Nail-Biter To South Carolina, 61-58

AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM Alli Smalley goes up for two of her 16 points
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
Alli Smalley goes up for two of her 16 points
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Feb. 4, 2010

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AUBURN - The Auburn women's basketball team (12-11, 3-7 SEC ) dropped a heartbreaker, 61-58, to South Carolina (12-10, 5-5 SEC) Thursday night at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Junior Alli Smalley led the Tigers in scoring with 16 while KeKe Carrier picked up her sixth double-double of the season, recording 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Auburn held a one-point lead with less than a minute remaining after a Smalley jumper, but an untimely foul on Morgan Toles while scrambling for a rebound with 26 seconds left set up a pair of free throws for South Carolina's Jewel May.

May connected on both free throws, her only points of the game, to put the Gamecocks ahead by one. Smalley got a look at the basket for the win with less than 10 seconds left, but the ball bounced high off the back of the rim and over the backboard, giving possession of the ball back to South Carolina.

Valerie Nainima hit a pair of free throws with eight seconds left to put USC up by three and seal the win. Nainima finished with 20 points, 12 of which coming from beyond the arc.

Auburn tried to get a last-second look at the basket for the tie, but Toles' running 3-pointer with time expiring fell short.

"That last play, we just needed Morgan to get down the floor and run Alli off of KeKe and see if we could get the three," said Auburn head coach Nell Fortner. "I thought Morgan got a good look at it, but the ball didn't go. We got a shot with Alli there at the end of the game. I thought it was a good look, it just did not drop."

South Carolina pulled down 16 offensive rebounds in the game, eight coming from freshman center Kelsey Bone. The Gamecocks turned those into 16 second-chance points.

"Offensive rebounding really killed us in the second half, and I thought that was the difference in the ball game," said Fortner. "We were making some good defensive stops, but we were not able to get the ball to finish the play out, which hurt us tonight."

The Tigers opened to a six-point lead seven minutes into the first half, but an Ieasia Walker 3-pointer at the 7:17 mark tied the game, 22-22. The Gamecocks were solid from behind the arc to start the game, going 5-of-10 from three-point land, including 3-of-8 shooting from Nainima.

Auburn re-gained a slim advantage until a five-point run from Nainima gave the Gamecocks a, 34-31, lead into the locker room.

Auburn held tight with the Gamecocks during the second half, never allowing the lead to extend past eight. The Tigers were more effective in guarding the 3-point play in the second half, allowing South Carolina to connect on just one of seven attempts.

A Nicolle Thomas jumper at the 13:18 mark started an 11-point run that would give the Tigers a 48-45 lead with 6:22 remaining. Auburn was unable to keep the lead as South Carolina's Bone responded with seven quick points.

The game was tied three times with eight lead changes in the final six minutes as the Gamecocks slipped out of Auburn with the three-point win.

Along with Carrier and Smalley, Toles also finished in double figures, scoring 14 points. She also tallied five assists and three rebounds in the game.

Bone and Nainima combined for 44 of South Carolina's 61 points. Bone led the way with 24 points and 14 rebounds while Nainima accounted for 20 and two assists.

Auburn lost despite out-shooting South Carolina. The Tigers shot 51.1 percent (24-of-47) from the field while USC shot 37.7 percent (23-of-61). Auburn struggled from beyond the arc, connecting on only one of seven attempts while the Gamecocks shot 6-of-17 for 35.3 percent.

Auburn will return to action at 2 p.m., Sunday as the Tigers travel to Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a matchup with in-state rival Alabama. The Tigers downed the Crimson Tide, 74-62, in a meeting earlier this season on Jan. 14.