AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — After back-to-back blowout losses highlighted the Auburn offense’s tendency to be stagnant, and at times nonexistent, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl leaned on a freshman off the bench to pull his team out of its two-game lull.
Coming into the game, the Tigers had suffered losses at Alabama and Florida where they managed to score just 64 and 47 points respectively.
Auburn found its spark Wednesday night.
Devan Cambridge scored 26 points, J' Von McCormick added 13 and No. 16 Auburn beat South Carolina 80-67 Wednesday night to stop a two-game skid. Cambridge’s previous season-high came earlier in the preseason in November, when he scored 10 versus Cal State Northridge.
“I felt like I brought the energy today,” Cambridge said. “We needed somebody to step up and (head coach Bruce Pearl) told me to just play with confidence. I came out today and did that. My teammates found me, and I was just making my shots.”
The Tigers started off sluggish, as is becoming the norm for this year’s team, but ran away with it down the stretch due in large part to hot shooting off the bench.
"We need guys to make shots, and Devan certainly was feeling it," Pearl said. "I have said that, someday, he could be our best player. I've said that. But I talked to him before the game tonight, and I was like, 'what are you waiting for? This team needs you this year. I know what the future could be for you.' Because he's been struggling a little bit, even in practice.”
Cambridge and Jamal Johnson checked in off the bench and combined for 12 points in matter of seconds, knocking down 3-point shots on four straight possessions to give the Tigers their first lead of the half.
“I felt like I couldn't miss,” Cambridge said. “Especially after I banked that one. I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm feeling it.”
Cambridge brought the home crowd to its feet multiple times Wednesday night inside Auburn Arena but no eruption was louder than when the springy forward threw down a thunderous, two-handed alley-oop jam off a lob from Samir Doughty on a fast break in the midst of a 13-2 Auburn run.
“We knew he had it in him,” McCormick said. “We just had to bring it out of him. He's kind of shy, so we're just trying to make him play his game. We're behind him make or miss.”
Auburn (16-2, 4-2 SEC) had to lean on its role players after the starters went a combined 1 of 10 from the field out of the gate. After the slow start, the Tigers finished the rest of the first half 11 of 20 to build a 39-31 halftime lead.
Auburn shot 46%, including 14 of 27 in the second half, and outscored South Carolina 38-16 in bench points.
The Tigers also shot 86% from the free-throw line, finishing 18 of 21. Three Tigers finished in double figures with Doughty adding 11.
South Carolina (10-8, 2-3) played without starting forward Keyshawn Bryant on the front line who was out with a head injury, but was only outrebounded by four.
The Gamecocks got out to an early lead when the Tigers came out cold from the field but quickly saw their lead vanish after a barrage of 3-pointers from Cambridge and Jamal Johnson just before halftime.
After a 7-0 run cut the Auburn lead to single digits out of the intermission, the Tigers used a 19-4 run to stretch their lead to 77-57 and put the Gamecocks all but away before the 7:00 mark.
Cambridge, who came into Wednesday averaging 3.1 points a game, finished the game 10 of 14 from the field, hitting six 3-pointers.
"His confidence, believe it or not, I think, was waning a little bit,” Pearl said of Cambridge. “None of the coach's confidence, none of the teammates' confidence. But it was kind of time for him to step up a little bit. He picked a pretty good time. So I'm happy for him."
Jermaine Cousinard led the Gamecocks with 16 points and Justin Minaya added 10.
South Carolina: After winning two in a row in conference play, including a buzzer-beating victory over Kentucky, the Gamecocks fall back below .500 in the SEC.
Auburn: The Tigers were blown out in back-to-back road games by a combined margin of 40 points at Alabama and Florida, shooting 11 of 51 from beyond the arc. Auburn, who dropped 12 spots in the latest AP poll, made 10 3-pointers to defeat South Carolina and stop a two-game losing streak.
South Carolina: Hosts Vanderbilt Saturday night.
Auburn: Hosts Iowa State in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.