The Tigers (8-13, 1-6) lost their first six SEC games by an average of more than 12 points and appeared on their way to another double-digit league loss as South Carolina (12-7, 3-3) cruised to a 15-8 lead.
But the Tigers went on a 17-5 run, taking a lead they would not relinquish.
Auburn's stifling zone and sharp defensive pressure made the difference. South Carolina shot 7 of 33 from outside the arc and managed just 20 points in the paint.
The usually poor shooting Tigers also made 26 of their 34 free throws.
Guard Kobe Paras, who was part of the freshman class, does not meet academic conditions and won't be attending UCLA.
Shaquille O'Neal said he wants his son, Shareef, to play for coaches who can help him reach the NBA and develop more discipline.
College basketball coaches across the country will hit the recruiting trail hard in July to target the Class of 2017's top prospects. Which players are the nation's top programs targeting?