COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)Wendell Green Jr. scored a season-high 22 points and No. 9 Auburn beat South Carolina 81-66 for its 10th straight win Tuesday night.
The Tigers (13-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) were up by 21 points in the second half before the Gamecocks cut it to 63-55 with about seven minutes left. But Green stepped forward again with two foul shots and 7-foot-1 Walker Kessler jammed home a basket as Auburn opened 2-0 in the league for the first time in four years.
Auburn made the Top 10 for the first time this season – and fourth time in the past five seasons – and had little trouble justifying their lofty spot most of the way against the Gamecocks.
Green was practically unstoppable in the first 20 minutes, the 5-foot-11 sophomore going for 14 points as he made six of 10 shots and grabbed five rebounds. Green has six points in a 17-5 run by the Tigers to take control.
Green had a three-point play to increase the margin to 12 points. When he blew by the defense for an uncontested layup two minutes later, a frustrated South Carolina coach Frank Martin called time out.
Nothing the Gamecocks did stopped Green, who moments later connected on a long, floating 3-pointer several feet behind the line to go up 44-27.
Kessler, the North Carolina transfer, was coming off a triple-double (16 points, 10 rebounds, 11 blocks) in Auburn’s win over LSU last time out.
And Kessler was a presence in this one, his length keeping South Carolina from getting close the basket as Auburn outscored the Gamecocks 24-8 on points in the paint.
Kessler wasn’t too far off a second straight triple double, finishing with 12 points, 10 boards and four of Auburn’s six blocked shots.
The Tigers hadn’t won this many in a row since notching 12 straight victories late in the 2018-2019 season. That streak came to an end in the Final Four, a 63-62 semifinal loss to Virginia.
Erik Stevenson tied his season high with 25 points for South Carolina.
THE BIG PICTURE
Auburn: The Tigers are playing like the class of the SEC right now, following up a win over ranked LSU with a dominant showing for their fourth straight win over South Carolina. Auburn shot 53 percent (29 of 55), its best showing of the season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks, with nine new faces on the roster, have already zoomed past last year’s win total in a disastrous 6-15 season. But the team is not ready to match up with the deeper, more talented teams in the SEC.
Auburn returns home to play Florida on Saturday night.
South Carolina starts a two-game road swing at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
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