COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) No. 10 Auburn's path toward closing out a stellar season in the Southeastern Conference just got tougher.
The Tigers found out shortly after their stunning, 84-75 loss to South Carolina on Saturday that starter Anfernee McLemore was lost for the season after a horrific injury late in the first half.
''Now, we're down to eight guys,'' Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.
The Tigers (23-4, 11-3 SEC) were already one of the smallest teams in the country - ''We're 305th in size,'' Pearl said - and will go the rest of the year minus their top low-post presence in the 6-foot-7 McLemore, who fractured his tibia and dislocated his left ankle.
Pearl said McLemore will travel back with the team and most likely have surgery Sunday. McLemore will need up to six months to recover.
''It's just sad,'' Auburn forward Desean Murray said.
Pearl said he told his team they can't worry about factors out of their control, such as McLemore's injury. Everyone left on their schedule will be gunning for the first-place Tigers, and it's up to his players, Pearl said, to find a way to succeed.
''We've got to clear our heads,'' Murray said, ''and bring another level of focus to practice.''
Auburn had lost its focus early in this one as South Carolina used a 21-1 first-half run to move in front by 26 points.
Frank Booker scored 19 points for South Carolina, which ended its six-game losing streak.
Auburn blocked out McLemore's injury in the second half and cut its big deficit down to 64-59 with just under seven minutes left.
But South Carolina scored the next seven points to restore the double-digit lead, and Auburn could get no closer than six points the rest of the way.
South Carolina beat a top-10 program for the third straight season and defeated its first top-10 team at home since taking out No. 1 Kentucky in January 2010.
Chris Silva had 14 points and 11 rebounds for South Carolina, his sixth double-double of the season.
South Carolina coach Frank Martin said his team has worked hard this season but struggled to close out tight games.
''We've got to embrace this moment,'' he said.
Mustapha Heron led Auburn with 16 points, just four of those coming in the second half. Brown, the Tigers' leading scorer this season, was held to 10 points (six fewer than his average) on 3-of-16 shooting.
Auburn has been the surprise of the SEC season so far. Things may get harder with McLemore out.
McLemore came down hard late in the first half while on defense. He immediately began shouting and medical personnel quickly surrounded him underneath the basket. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl and South Carolina coach Frank Martin came out to check on the 6-foot-7 sophomore, who was diagnosed with a dislocated left ankle and taken off the court on a stretcher before being transported to a hospital for X-rays, which confirmed the severity of the injury.Before leaving, McLemore sat up and waved at the cheering crowd.
South Carolina's bench scored a season-high 43 points. Graduate transfer guard Frank Booker (19) and Wesley Myers (13) combined for 32 of those points. The team's previous season-high for bench points was 32 (at Georgia and at Texas A&M).
- Today's win marks Carolina's first victory over a top-10 opponent at Colonial Life Arena since defeating top-ranked Kentucky, 68-62, on Jan. 26, 2010. Devan Downey had 30 points and Brandis Raley-Rossscored 17 to lead the Gamecocks to victory.
- Carolina's 84 points today are a season-high and are its most since scoring 80 in consecutive home contests against Wyoming (Dec. 6) and Coastal Carolina (Dec. 9).
- Booker has scored 55 points in his last three games (18.3 ppg) off the bench for the Gamecocks. He played 32 minutes today, his third-straight game playing 30 plus minutes in a reserve role. He went 4-for-4 at the free throw line the final 23 seconds to put the game on ice.
- Junior forward Chris Silva had 14 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes, good for his sixth double-double of the season and the 11th of his career. Silva matched a career-high with three steals.
- The Gamecocks have now defeated Auburn three consecutive times. It's the longest winning streak in the series for Carolina since winning three-straight from 2008-10.
- It was Legends Weekend for the South Carolina men's basketball program as past players throughout the years were honored at halftime of today's game. The ceremony was highlighted by Sindarius Thornwell, Duane Notice, Justin McKie and P.J. Dozier all receiving their NCAA East Regional Championship rings.
South Carolina concludes its brief homestand with a 6:30 p.m. ET matchup vs. Georgia at Colonial Life Arena next Wednesday, Feb. 21. Tom Hart (play-by-play) and Jon Sundvold (analyst) will have the call for the SEC Network broadcast.