Date: Saturday March 16th
Opponent: Florida Gators
Location: Bridgestone Arena - Nashville, Tennessee
Network: ESPN, Auburn Radio Network
Before February 5th, the Auburn Tigers had defeated Florida 2 times in this millennium, both in the SEC Tournament (2000 and 2009). Now, Auburn looks to beat Florida 2 times in less than 6 weeks after beating the Gators 76-62 in Auburn on February 5th. Auburn knocked off South Carolina 73-64 to get to the Semifinals and will play their 3rd game in 3 days. Likewise, so will the Gators who hit a 3-pointer with a second left (seen below) to knock off SEC Regular Season Champion LSU 76-73 in a wildly entertaining basketball game.
Florida fought back from being down 10 at halftime and was really fortunate LSU didn’t run them out of the gym in the first half the way LSU started in that game. The Gators are clicking at the right time of the year (sound familiar Auburn fans?)
Get to (Re)-Know Florida...
Florida came into this SEC Tournament losers of 3 games in a row and had to win at least 1, possibly 2 to make sure they were safe in the NCAA Field. Mission accomplished.
Florida is in this position because a pair of freshmen have stepped up big time in this tournament. We’ll start with forward (#11) Keyontae Johnson who right now, is the MVP of the SEC Tournament. On Thursday against Arkansas, Johnson scored a career high 20 points and had 12 rebounds to go with it. Yesterday against LSU, he had 16 points and 10 rebounds. He’s had 5 games this year with 10+ rebounds and 2 of those games have come in this tournament. He could have had another 20-10 game but was 0-5 from the free throw line yesterday. Keeping Johnson off the glass will be important in this contest. Johnson had 7 points and 10 rebounds back on February 5th in Auburn.
Next, we’ll talk about the hero of yesterday’s game Andrew Nembhard (#2) who had 20 points and 6 assists in the win over LSU. Nembhard has played 38 and 37 minutes these first 2 games so it would be imperative for the Tigers to try and play fast to wear Nembhard down. Auburn’s depth is something they have an advantage with in this game. He had 8 points against Auburn in the regular season matchup.
Now, we have to talk about two of Florida’s seniors, starting with leading scorer KeVaughn Allen (#5) who has also had a good SEC Tournament. While averaging 12.1 points a game this season, he scored 17 against his home-state Arkansas Razorbacks team and 12 against LSU. He had 10 points and 6 turnovers in the first game this season and Auburn as we all know has done well to force turnovers this season.
I remember when Auburn played Florida a month ago that Jalen Hudson (#3) was in a season long slump that was quite befuddling to me. He only scored 4 inside Auburn Arena but has scored in double figures in all but 2 games since the Auburn game, including a 33 point effort in their OT loss to LSU last Wednesday. He’s 3-11 from 3 this tournament and Auburn needs to keep him off the 3-point line if they want to win this game.
Florida’s 2nd leading scorer Noah Locke (#10) played a season-low 10 minutes yesterday and didn’t score for the Gators. He only scored 2 points against Arkansas and only scored 10 points once in his last 7 games. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on him as he’s a high volume 3-point shooter. He scored 10 against Auburn in February.
Finally, the big man in the middle senior Kevarrius Hayes (#13) rounds out the bulk of the offense for Florida. All 5 starters were in double figures for Florida yesterday and he rounded that out with 11 points and 8 rebounds. He leads the team in rebounds at 6.1 a game and with Auburn struggling on the glass at times, Auburn needs to keep him and Johnson off the glass.
What to Look for from Auburn...
In the first matchup, it was a collective group effort for Auburn to win that game as nobody scored more than 14 points. 3 players were in double figures and 8 players contributed at least 5 points. Auburn’s gotten contributions from different guys in this tournament and they’ll need more of that today.
Yesterday, I said Jared Harper had to have a big game for Auburn to win. Harper was exactly what we needed him to be. After scoring just 5 in the 2nd Round matchup against Missouri, Harper went off for 27 points against the Gamecocks. He hit some early 3s to keep him going but in the second half, he drove the ball into the paint and got fouled on several occasions. He went 12-14 from the free throw line which was a big part of Auburn’s win yesterday. He also had 6 rebounds and 6 assists as well. Harper’s willingness to score as well as keep his teammates will do wonders for Auburn going into today’s game.
Bryce Brown hit 5 more 3s yesterday to go along with the 5 from Thursday. He’s 10-24 in this tournament and with him seeming somewhat comfortable now in Bridgestone Arena, I would look for Bryce to hit at least 5 more today and the Tigers are going to need all of them if they want to play on Sunday. Bryce had 14 points back in February.
It’s hard to believe that Jared Harper had 5 points in an Auburn win and it’s just as hard to believe Auburn won a game that Chuma Okeke had just 4 points. But we’ve seen that in this tournament. Chuma didn’t have a great game but this is a game he can dominate. Okeke was saddled with foul trouble but today, they don’t have Chris Silva to worry about.
Look for Chuma to bounce back today. He made the most of the 1 shot he made yesterday. It’s not the first time he’s made the most of his 1 made field goal in an SEC game this season.
Game. Set. Match.— Power of Dixieland (@PwrofDixieland) March 15, 2019
Auburn 73 South Carolina 64
Auburn moves to 24-9 on the season and 6-0 in the month of March! The Tigers survive and advance to the semifinals of the #SECTourney‼️#WarDamnEagle pic.twitter.com/uMAOFYs6VF
This flush by Chuma Okeke in Auburn's win over Georgia today pic.twitter.com/mUcO5IHhiR— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) January 13, 2019
I need to give Danjel Purifoy some credit here. Purifoy has been through a lot here at Auburn and he’s stuck with this team and now he’s contributing in big spots, which is allowing Bruce to play him more. He had 2 big offensive rebounds against Missouri and pitched in 5 points in that game. Yesterday, Purifoy hit 2 big 3s, one in each half, and also had 5 rebounds in 17 minutes. Hopefully, Purifoy gets more confident throughout this tournament run that will lead him to have a big senior season on the Plains.
I thought Bruce bringing in Austin Wiley for a 3 minute stretch midway through the 1st half was a key turning point in the game. The Tigers were down 22-16 when Wiley came in and the team really needed a spark. On the first possession, the Tigers got him the ball in the paint and he was able to get an easy basket. It wasn’t much, but I thought that was a big lift for this Auburn team to get him back on the floor and if nothing else, steal a few minutes for Spencer and McLemore who got through yesterday without fouling out, unlike the first South Carolina matchup. We’ll see if Wiley gets 3-5 minutes again today.
Auburn hasn’t been to the SEC Championship Game since 2000 when they lost to Arkansas. They have a GOLDEN opportunity to end that streak. Over the past 2 seasons, Auburn has ended a bunch of streaks and it would be nice to end this one today. If you’re keeping score at home, 1985 was the last time (and only time) Auburn has won the SEC Tournament.
Johnson and Nembhard are going to be a handful and Florida is one of the better defensive squads in the SEC. Auburn needs to keep hitting 12-13 3s in games like they have and it would be nice to see them start the game better than they have been lately. Also, if they get out to a big lead, keep the pedal to the medal because the Gators were down 13 on 4 separate occasions yesterday before coming back. Both teams will be fatigued in this one and Auburn has the depth advantage. Chuma didn’t play a whole bunch yesterday and Harper didn’t play as much Thursday so I think Auburn will have more legs, and I think they’ll continue to make history, as they have been doing all season long.
Auburn 72 Florida 65