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No. 10 Auburn loses Anfernee McLemore to gruesome injury in loss to South Carolina

Auburn guard Jared Harper, center, dribbles the ball against South Carolina guard Hassani Gravett (2) and Maik Kotsar, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

No. 10 Auburn dropped a road game 84-75 to unranked South Carolina on Saturday and lost forward Anfernee McLemore to a gruesome ankle injury in the process.

The Tigers fell behind big to the Gamecocks in the first half, but things got worse when McLemore, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, suffered a dislocated left ankle when a teammate fell onto his leg while trying to draw a charge. As McLemore turned to position himself for the rebound, the weight of teammate Desean Murray landed right on McLemore’s left leg, twisting it awkwardly.

(You can watch video of the injury here. It is graphic.)

McLemore was taken off the court on a stretcher before being transported to a local hospital. McLemore made his 20th start of the season for the Tigers Saturday and entered the game averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and an SEC-leading 2.7 blocks per game for the SEC’s first-place team.

Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said after the game that McLemore will miss the rest of the season.

“Anfernee is a huge part of this team and this family,” Pearl said. “He is one of the most unique athletes in college basketball. He’s a 6-foot-7, shot-blocking, 3-point shooting warrior. Our thoughts and our prayers are with him. The injury was gruesome and we do not have him for the rest of the season. But I promise you, Anfernee McLemore will not be held down. He will be back.”

The loss of McLemore is a significant one. With Austin Wiley ineligible, McLemore has been the Tigers’ most consistent interior presence. In his absence, 6-foot-8 junior Horace Spencer and freshman Chuma Okeke, who also stands 6-foot-8, will be pressed into increased action entering postseason play. With McLemore out on Saturday, Okeke contributed 11 points and nine rebounds. Spencer added six points and five boards, but fouled out.

Auburn trailed by as many as 26 points in the first half, but was able to storm back in the second half, even without McLemore. The Tigers cut the Gamecocks lead down to 64-59 with 6:17 to play, but South Carolina kept Auburn at arm’s length with some clutch buckets down the stretch to complete the upset.

The loss hurts Auburn’s chances at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — but figuring out a way to play in March without McLemore could prove to be a bigger issue moving forward. The loss also opens up the door for Tennessee, which entered Saturday two games behind the Tigers in the SEC standings.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!