COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Junior guard Bruce Ellington scored a season-high 18 points for South Carolina, but it wasn't enough for the Gamecocks as they fell 74-71 in a back-and-forth SEC matchup with Auburn on Saturday afternoon at Colonial Life Arena.
Ellington tied the game at 71-71 by sinking a jumper with 3:10 left in the game, but Auburn held the Gamecocks scoreless the rest of the way and made 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch to secure the win in a contest that saw 27 lead changes and 13 ties.
With the loss, South Carolina falls to 10-5 overall and 0-2 in SEC play. The Tigers improve to 8-7 on the season and 2-0 in the conference.
The Gamecocks had four players reach double figures led by Ellington, who also dished out five assists and recorded two steals. Sophomore Damien Leonard tossed in 17 points, including tying a career high with five 3-pointers. He also pulled down a career-high nine rebounds. Senior Lakeem Jackson and junior Eric Smith chipped in 10 points apiece for South Carolina. Freshman Michael Carrera filled the stat sheet with six points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
As a team, the Gamecocks scored at a 45.6 percent clip (26-of-57) and made 8-of-20 attempts from 3-point range. Carolina also won the battle of the boards with a 31-24 advantage, including 17 offensive rebounds that led to 20 second-chance points.
Senior guard Frankie Sullivan paced Auburn with 17 points. Senior Rob Chubb recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman Brian Greene added 14 points for the Tigers, who shot 58.5 percent (24-of-41) from the floor and 44.4 percent (8-of-18) from deep.
The teams traded baskets for most of the first half. South Carolina used a 7-1 run midway through the half to build the biggest lead of the half at 20-14 on a fastbreak layup by Ellington with 11:32 on the clock.
However, the Tigers scrapped back to take a 21-20 lead on a 3-pointer by Noel Johnson with 9:45 left in the half. The lead then changed hands five times before the Gamecocks took a 39-37 lead on a jumper by Ellington with seven seconds remaining. Sullivan knocked down one of two free throws at the other end, as South Carolina took a 39-38 lead into the locker room.
Auburn jumped out to a lead early in the second half, as Sullivan drained back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Tigers a 46-42 advantage with 16:03 left in the contest. South Carolina came back to take a 49-48 lead on a Jackson jumper at the 12:48 mark. The teams then went back and forth for the next four minutes before the Gamecocks built their biggest lead of the half at 61-57 with a 3-pointer by Leonard.
But once again the Tigers came back, and Greene knocked down a trey to give his team a 62-61 lead with 6:47 left in the game. The game then saw six more lead changes and three ties before Auburn took the lead for good on a pair of made free throws by Sullivan with 2:41 on the clock.
With seven seconds left in the contest, Ellington missed a 3-point attempt from the corner, as the Tigers held on for the 74-71 victory.
The Gamecocks will return to action on Wednesday at LSU. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. in Baton Rouge, La.