Another SEC game, another close loss in agonizing fashion.
Six of South Carolina's eight conference losses have been decided by eight points or less, including Wednesday night's 79-74 setback to Auburn.
Despite overcoming a 16-point second-half deficit to tie the game at 62, South Carolina ran out of steam and time as Auburn got its first road win of the season and the Gamecocks got one more taste of frustration.
South Carolina got 26 points from Brent Williams and a season-high 14 from Mindaugas Kacinas but the Gamecocks (8-14, 1-8) couldn't slow down Auburn's dynamic guard duo of KT Harrell and Chris Denson, who scored 25 points each.
Denson and Harrell were able consistently to drive the lane for either easy layups in transition (at one point, the Tigers held a 17-2 advantage in fast-break points), draw fouls or otherwise create open looks for an Auburn team that shot 66.7 percent from the field in the second half, 52.7 percent for the game.
"Sin and Duane had their hands full with defensive assignments and they tried against two really really good players (in Denson and Harrell)," Martin said. "Those guys settle, they attack you, so you're asking two freshmen to guard to fourth year guys, and our help-side defense was atrocious and embarrassing.
"The three guys that were not guarding those two players never helped. We don't block shots, we don't take charges, we don't defensive rebound. It's hard to win.
"Our margin for error is paper thin."
After a first half in which Auburn (11-9, 3-6) couldn't pull away from the Gamecocks thanks to the timely scoring of Williams (11 points at the half) and Thornwell (6 at halftime) and ferocious play inside from Michael Carrera (6 defensive rebounds at half, 4 points), the Gamecocks were within striking distance of the Tigers down three points at halftime, 38-35.
The Tigers opened the second half on a 22-9 run however, one that looked to bury a shiftless and confused USC team that trailed by 16 at 60-44 with 13:20 remaining.
From there South Carolina woke-up, and keyed by 10-straight points from Williams the Gamecocks got themselves and the crowd back into the game thanks to an 18-2 run that tied the game at 62 with 7:50 on the second-half clock.
Unfortunately for USC, the Gamecocks simply could not get a defensive stop when they most needed it. After having held the Tigers to two points over 5:30 while erasing the 16-point hole, Auburn regained its composure. Behind its two fourth-year guards, Auburn went on the attack again scored on six of its next eight possessions to regain control of the game with a 6-point lead at 75-69 with 2:04 to play.
"There was a 4-5 minute stretch in second half and we didn't get a stop," Williams said. "We kind of slacked an picked it back up but couldn't battle all the way back.
"We did make a run, but the coaches said that's what we should have started off the half with and we'd have won the game. We have to find that from the very beginning."
"It was just another close one we let get away from us. Disappointment does start to set in after a while, but we have to get ready for the next game."