Thornwell to lead South Carolina against Auburn (Jan 24, 2017)
Sindarius Thornwell doesn't shy away from expectations, and the senior is aiming to finish his final college season in style.
The South Carolina guard also will be striving to follow up the highest scoring game of his career when the No. 23 Gamecocks host Auburn in Tuesday's SEC contest in Columbia, S.C.
Thornwell poured in 34 points in Saturday's loss to Kentucky, and he said the big outing is easy to explain. He said it is because he is now able to play without worry.
"Just play free and play confident," Thornwell said at Monday's press conference. "That's the biggest thing -- when you have the confidence with the ability, then the sky is the limit.
"Right now my confidence is through the roof."
Thornwell and the Gamecocks (15-4, 5-1 SEC) will be trying to get back on the winning side of the ledger after falling 85-69 at Kentucky.
The loss halted South Carolina's five-game winning streak, and Thornwell (team-best 19.4 points per game) was a one-man show due to sophomore guard PJ Dozier missing the contest due to back spasms.
Dozier averages 14.6 points as one of only two double-digit scorers for the Gamecocks.
Coach Frank Martin said Monday that Dozier has no structural damage in his back, but it remains unclear whether Dozier will be available against the Tigers (13-6, 3-4).
"He's past pain, he's more in soreness," Martin said. "Anytime your muscles spasm, it is just one big knot. The pain of those knots are gone."
Auburn has won three of its past four game, and the emergence of freshman center Austin Wiley has been a key reason.
Wiley averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two victories last win to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors. He recorded career highs of 19 points and nine rebounds in Saturday's 84-64 rout of Alabama.
"I just do whatever I need to do for my team to win," Wiley said.
Wiley averages 8.6 points as part of an attack that features three double-digit scorers. Freshman guard Mustapha Heron leads the Tigers in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (6.2). Freshman forward Danjel Purifoy averages 13.1 points, and freshman guard Jared Harper chips in 12.4.
Auburn averaged 81 points in last week's wins but will find it a challenge to approach that output against the Gamecocks, who lead the nation in 3-point shooting defense (27.2 percent) and the SEC in scoring defense (60.7).
"Defensively, they are terrific," Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said at Monday's press conference. "They're also really physical offensively. It's going to be a tough one to get. South Carolina will probably be as good an environment and as tough of a matchup for us as we've faced this year."
Auburn will be hoping to see an improved effort from Purifoy. He tallied just five points in 29 minutes against Alabama after missing the previous three games with an ankle injury.
The Tigers are 3-2 on the road this season while the Gamecocks are 11-1 at home.
Meanwhile, Thornwell insists this South Carolina club is different from some of the recent editions, where a loss like the one at Kentucky might prompt another defeat or two.
"I think we're different just as far as our leadership," Thornwell said. "Us older guys won't allow our team to go in that bad place, in that down moment after a loss. We try to stay as positive as we can no matter what situation we're in and try to keep the team in a good place."