The losing streak in Gainesville has reached 14. No. 2 Auburn overcame an anemic first half on offense to take a second half lead, but a barrage of threes late in the second half led by Tyree Appleby gave Florida a late lead and the Gators were able to get a last second stop to preserve a 63-62 win in the Swamp.
As Coach Bruce Pearl put it postgame, “Appleby made some big shots.”
The loss is also Auburn’s second straight road SEC loss, with the two losses coming by a combined five points. In both cases, the oppositions’ home fans, Arkansas and Florida respectively, have stormed the court.
Auburn saw a nine-point lead midway through the second half dwindle away as Appleby made clutch three after clutch three. On the back of their three-point shooting, the Gators built an eight-point lead with less than three minutes to play, but the Tigers refused to go away. K.D. Johnson and Jabari Smith combined to make seven free throws in the final two minutes as the Tigers pulled within one with 23 seconds to play. Following a Florida timeout, the Gators had an inbounds play under their own hoop with 9.9 seconds to play. With the game on the line, Jabari Smith was able to knock away the Florida inbound pass and Walker Kessler corralled the loose ball to give Auburn one final shot trailing by one. Auburn called a timeout with 7.1 seconds to play to draw up a final play. The final inbound went to Wendell Green, Jr., but the stout Gator defense prevented Green, Jr. from getting off a shot or pass as time ran out.
Coming off a career high 31 points on Wednesday against Vanderbilt, freshman phenom Jabari Smith scored 28 points on four of five shooting from the three-point line. Smith also made 10 of 11 free throws and added seven rebounds. However, Auburn struggled on offense outside of Smith. K.D. Johnson added 12 points, including six in the final two minutes. Walker Kessler was the third Tiger to finish in double figures with 11. Auburn’s bench, normally a strength, only managed nine points.
Postgame, Pearl pointed to the lack of offensive contribution beyond Smith as a major factor in Auburn’s second straight road loss. “We’re best when everybody contributes and that wasn’t the case today.”
With the loss, Auburn falls to 24-3 overall and 12-2 in league play. Meanwhile, Florida picks up a key win as they continue to chase an NCAA Tournament bid. The Gators are now 17-10 overall and 7-7 in league play.
Both teams struggled mightily in the first half on the offensive end. When asked about the offensive struggles in the first 20 minutes, Smith said “I just feel like it was two good defensive teams.” Auburn never led in the first half, but thanks to a late 7-0 run, went into the locker room only trailing by a point. Auburn’s defense held the Gators without a point for the final 4:02 of the first half, and the Gators went into the locker room up 22-21. The two teams combined to shoot 16 of 54 (29.6%) from the field in the first half.
It became the Jabari Smith show after halftime. Smith scored 10 points in the first four and a half minutes of the second half as Auburn used a 13-4 run after intermission to take their first lead of the game. However, that is when Appleby and his teammates began to heat up from deep. Florida made seven triples in the second half including four by Appleby. Eventually, the Gators went up 61-53 with 2:16 to play. Auburn closed the game on a 9-1 run but needed one more shot to fall to pull this one out of the fire.
For the game, Auburn shot the ball at a 40% clip from the field and connected on 85% of their free throws. The Tigers outrebounded Florida 38-27 but also had 17 costly turnovers.
Appleby led the Gators with 26 points. Colin Castleton chipped in with 19 points and eight rebounds. The Gators only shot 36.5% from the field but shot 40% from deep and 78.9% from the charity stripe.
Auburn is back in action on Wednesday evening when they host Ole Miss in Auburn Arena. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.