JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Brandy Montgomery scored 14 points in the fourth quarter as Auburn surged back late, but the Tigers fell short to No. 3/2 South Carolina 57-48 in the SEC Tournament quarterfinal.
The Tigers (19-12) held South Carolina (29-1) to its second-lowest scoring output of the season and outscored the Gamecocks 32-25 in the second half after trailing by 16 at halftime. A late surge in the second quarter by Carolina, plus the Gamecocks attempting 20 more free throws than Auburn, proved to be the difference in the game.
"I thought our kids continued to fight and play hard throughout the whole game," Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "It was a tough game, very physical game. South Carolina is a very good team. I mean, they're undefeated in conference for a reason. That's tough to do. It's a very tough conference, and they're undefeated in the conference."
Auburn has positioned itself for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament with the selection show coming up on Monday, March 14. The Tigers have 19 wins with three against top-50 teams in the RPI, five against top-100 teams and only one loss to a team below 100th in the RPI (Virginia, 103). Auburn's RPI was 56 going into today's game and will likely rise after facing the Gamecocks, who were No. 4.
"We play in one of the toughest conferences in the country," Williams-Flournoy said. "We finish 8-8 in the conference. We win the first SEC tournament game. We only lose by 9 against one of the best teams in the (country). We've played well throughout.
"Really, when you look at it, what an improvement in this team. Something has to be said for the work. When you really look at us, the defense that we play, when we hold South Carolina to 57 points, they average almost 72 points a game. We're a very good defensive team that deserves to show what a great defensive team we are in the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully somebody else will see that and give us that chance."
Montgomery finished with a game-high 18 points - all in the second half - with 14 of those coming in the fourth quarter. After a slow start where she missed her first seven shots, she knocked down seven of her last 10 attempts and single-handedly opened the fourth quarter on a 10-4 run, helping Auburn cut a 20-point deficit to single-digits.
" I got open looks, I just need to knock down the shot," Montgomery said. "Tra'Cee (Tanner) talked to me at halftime. (She) got me to calm down. I think that helped me the second half. I wasn't overthinking, I was just playing and shooting."
Tanner and freshman Janiah McKay each finished with 10 points, giving the Tigers three players in double-figures. Tanner, Montgomery and Katie Frerking tied for the team rebounding lead with six apiece.
Auburn held South Carolina to a shooting percentage of 31.7 percent - its lowest in at least two years - while the Tigers shot 35.7 percent from the floor. The Gamecocks - taller at every position - had just one more rebound (36) than Auburn (35). The Tigers also won the turnover battle, forcing Carolina into 16 while committing 15 of their own.
The biggest difference in the game came at the free-throw line. Auburn was called for twice as many fouls as South Carolina (24-12), which led to the Gamecocks hitting 22-of-29 free-throw attempts. Auburn did not get to the line until late in the third quarter and finished 5-of-9.
The Tigers jumped out to a quick 9-3 lead in the first quarter, but the Gamecocks ended the period on a 10-2 run to take a two-point lead into the second. A wave of turnovers and missed shots - along with three Auburn starters in foul trouble - in the second quarter allowed the Gamecocks to go on a big run, outscoring Auburn 19-5 in the quarter and taking a 32-16 lead at halftime.
Alainca Coates led the Gamecocks with a double-double, scoring 14 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Bianca Cuevas scored 10 points off the bench.