COLUMBIA - When Chris Denson and KT Harrell each picked up their fourth foul midway through the second half, Auburn coach Tony Barbee knew he had to have at least one of his high-scoring players out on the floor.
The calculated risk worked as they pulled the Tigers (11-9, 3-6 SEC) back from what could have been a disastrous collapse in a 79-74 win Wednesday night over South Carolina (8-14, 1-8).
"We've got to have at least one of those guys on the floor offensively to make plays. That's their job," Barbee said.
Auburn led by three at halftime, then made eight of its first nine shots of the second half. Allen Payne's 3-pointer with 13:20 left put the Tigers ahead 60-44.
But the Gamecocks went on an 18-2 run in five minutes to tie it at 62. Things got bleaker when Denson picked up his fourth foul with 8:05 left. He went to the bench, but didn't stay long as Harrell picked up his fourth foul less than a minute later. Denson was getting up out of his seat before the coaches pointed at him to go back in.
"We both had to stay in the game and make big plays down the stretch," Denson said.
And they did. Denson had a 3-point play and two more free throws and Harrell hit back-to-back jumpers to put the Tigers up 73-67 with 2:55 to go.
Denson, the SEC's second leading scorer, and Harrell, who is fourth in the league in points, would score 15 of Auburn's final 19 points, while avoiding a fifth foul. They would each finish the game with 25 points as the Tigers won three SEC games in a row in the same season for the first time since 2009 and matched their league wins from all of last year at the halfway mark of the season.
"I think last year we would have given that lead away. But this year we were resilient and got the win," Denson said.
Auburn shot 52.7 percent (29 of 55). It was the first time the Tigers topped 50 percent shooting in the SEC this season. South Carolina shot 44 percent (27 of 61).
Brenton Williams scored 29 points as the Gamecocks started the SEC 1-8 for the second time in three years. South Carolina will have to win all of its final nine games to finish with a winning SEC record for the first time since 2009. With Arkansas' win Wednesday night, the last-place Gamecocks also fell two games behind 13th.
"We didn't block shots. We don't take charges. We don't get defensive rebounds. Our margin of error is paper thin right now," second-year South Carolina coach Frank Martin said.
Mindaugas Kacinas scored 14 points and Duane Notice added 12 points for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina heads to Tennessee next. The Gamecocks have lost 12 in a row to the Volunteers.
"All we can continue to do is coach and teach," said Martin, who never had a losing conference record in his five seasons at Kansas State.
Tajh Shamsid-Deen added 12 points and Payne had nine points and nine rebounds for Auburn.
The Tigers have won just 15 SEC games in the past four seasons combined, but have beaten the Gamecocks four times in that span. Auburn also has won only four SEC road games in the past four seasons. Three of them have been at South Carolina. The other was at LSU, where Auburn plays next.
Barbee shrugged his shoulders when he was asked about why his team always wins in Columbia.
"I don't know," he said. "We just play well here."
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