Auburn basketball did just about everything right Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina.
The Tigers shot 51.9% from the floor, made 14 of 27 3-pointers and hit 93.8% of their free throws. They assisted on 21 of 40 made field goals. They turned the ball over only 14 times.
The result was an 109-86 victory over the Gamecocks (3-5, 1-3 SEC). That’s the Tigers’ (9-7, 3-5) first victory at Colonial Life Arena since Feb. 5, 2014, and first triple-digit scoring effort in an SEC game since Feb. 13, 1999. The 109 points are the most they’ve ever scored in an SEC road game.
Allen Flanigan led five players in double figures with a career-high 24 points.
Here are three things we learned:
1. Sharife Cooper is good and makes everyone else better
OK, we already knew the first part. But it bears repeating over and over again. The five-star freshman point guard scored at least 25 points in three of his first four games. He double-doubled in the first half of his fifth and threatened recording the second triple-double in program history.
His final line: 16 points on 4-for-10 shooting (2-for-3 from 3, 6-for-7 from the free throw line), 12 assists, six rebounds and two blocks in 27.
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Eleven of those 12 assists came in the first half. That’s indicative of just how much of a rhythm Auburn’s offense got in – players seemed to make the extra pass on every half-court possession, sometimes multiple times.
It equaled 13 assists on 19 made baskets, including a lot of easy looks for Flanigan and Jaylin Williams, who both had 14 points at the break. Auburn shot 52.8% and made 8 of 14 3-pointers.
“To have both Allen Flanigan and Sharife Cooper on the floor together right now, it gives me two playmaking guards that I can work through,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “I thought the guys did a good job mixing in the fast break and transition with running some good half-court sets.”
2. Auburn learned its lesson on defense
The Tigers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, thanks in large part to a six-minute stretch where the Gamecocks missed all 12 shot attempts. But they led by as many as 19 points in the first at Arkansas on Wednesday, and they lost that game by two.
Cooper said the reason for that was the team getting “too complacent, too comfortable,” specifically on defense, where the point guard said Auburn took some plays off. That didn’t happen on Saturday – the Tigers outscored the Gamecocks by eight after halftime.
“Going into the locker room, I just thought, like, ‘Man, we cannot blow this lead,'” Williams said. “We all got together and just kept our energy.”
3. A more consistent Jaylin Williams would be a monster
Williams scored a career-high 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting (including six made 3s) during Auburn’s Jan. 6 loss at Ole Miss. Asked about his performance afterwards, Pearl said, “he has a nice game. I want more.”
He got it against South Carolina. Williams scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting (2-for-3 from 3) and chipped in seven rebounds and two assists.
In the four games in between, though, the Williams scored four, 11, seven and two points, respectively. He’s scored in single digits seven times in 16 games.
Part of that may be the result of playing in a deep rotation. But the stats show that the Tigers are better when he scores like he did Saturday – they’re 7-2 when Williams scores in double figures compared to 2-5 when he doesn’t.
“Clearly, it helps us when he’s a little bit of flow and a factor on the offensive end,” Pearl said.
Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.