Number 9 Auburn will travel to Columbia, SC to face the South Carolina Gamecocks on Tuesday night, when the soaring Tigers look to maintain the dominance of big man Walker Kessler.
A transfer from North Carolina, Kessler turned back shots at a record pace for Auburn (12-1, 1-0 SEC), who opened conference action on Wednesday with a 70-55 home win over No. a. 16 LSU.
Dominant Kessler played a huge role in the game.
He achieved a triple-double, including a career-high 11 blocks, as Auburn kept the visiting Tigers 28.6 percent from shots from the field and 20.7 percent from long distance.
The Newnan, Ga. Native led his team with 16 points and 10 rebounds as Auburn claimed his ninth straight victory.
“Our defense was exceptional,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “It starts and ends with Walker Kessler, his ability to protect the rim. Walker cleans everything.
“If there is a better defender, rim protector and shot blocker in the country, I haven’t seen him.”
Kyle Davis has held Auburn’s record for blocking shots for nearly two decades, since he blocked 126 in the 2002-03 season, but Kessler is a strong contender to break the mark. He has 55 blocks in 13 games this season, averaging 4.2 per game.
The Tigers lead the nation in shot blocking, registering 8.2 blocks per game, 1.4 more than any other team.
Kessler said positioning and timing are the main reasons he’s able to throw so many attempts back where they came from.
“I have pretty good timing for blocks knowing when and where to attack him,” said Kessler, who produced Auburn’s first triple-double since Kenny Gabriel on Jan. 2, 2012 against Bethune-Cookman.
Pearl added, “Walker lands well and he’s not afraid to get up in the air and put himself in a compromising position. It’s proof of his tenacity.”
The Gamecocks (9-3) had some free time to prepare for their opening conference game – more than they wanted.
Their meeting last Wednesday against the state’s opponent South Carolina was postponed due to a health and safety protocol, with no makeup date yet to be announced.
Coach Frank Martin’s team made their last appearance in a Matinee rout of the Army on December 22, toppling the Black Knights 105-75 behind a powerful shot from the Carters – a high of 22 points from Devin and 20 de Chico – who made a combined 15 of 26 shots from the field.
For the game, South Carolina made 41 of 70 field goal attempts – a record 58.6 percent – and had eight of its 15 games (53.3 percent).
Martin said it was essential to have the whole team together.
“We have a good basketball team,” he said. “Take into consideration (Keyshawn) Bryant is missing five games. Jermaine Couisnard practically practiced for maybe 10 days.
“They are our two most experienced players, and both are career double-digit goalscorers.”
–Field level media
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