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CHAMPIONSHIP BOUND: Auburn 65, Florida 62

Not sorry, Gators!

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Auburn vs Florida Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Tomorrow between the hours of 12 pm CST and 2 pm CST, you will be legally required to be in view of a television set, computer, phone, tablet, or radio so that you can tune in AND WATCH YOUR AUBURN TIGERS PLAY FOR THE SEC TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP.

Auburn advanced to the title game tomorrow after a 65-62 victory over 8-seed Florida today at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. It’s the third win in three days for the Tigers, and the seventh-straight win overall for Bruce Pearl’s team.

Today’s win over the Gators came courtesy of another huge day from Jared Harper, who finished with 20 points after a 27 point game yesterday. His dagger three with just seconds left to play gave Auburn the margin it would need to hold on and win, but the game was not without controversy in the end.

After Harper’s three to put Auburn up 64-60, Florida scored quickly, and with 6.2 seconds left, Harper got fouled and went to the line for a one-and-one. He made the first to give the Tigers a 65-62 lead, and missed the second. Auburn attempted to foul Andrew Nembhard, but the officials didn’t blow the whistle, and his desperate shot went way off the mark as three Tigers hung on at the horn.

It was a bizarre game when you look at the numbers, as Florida began the game sizzling from the floor and didn’t really slow down at all. The Gators started 6-7 from the floor and built a quick 14-7 lead. Auburn had a similar start to what they’d done the past two days, and only hit one of their first seven three-pointers. Trailing 19-10, J’Von McCormick buried a three, and then Jared Harper woke up and hit back to back to back threes to put Auburn back up 22-19. Florida regrouped and continued to shoot well and led 34-30 at halftime.

The Gators hit 70% of their first half shots, went 4-8 from downtown, and they’d won the rebounding battle 14-9. Despite that, their lead was only 4 points because Auburn had taken six more shots and made three more three-pointers.

In the second half, Florida kept the advantage for the first seven minutes before a Samir Doughty three put Auburn over the top 47-44, and six minutes later a Bryce Brown three opened up the largest lead of the game for the Tigers at 57-49. With three minutes left, Auburn led 61-55, but Florida got a three from Jalen Hudson and a dunk from Kevarrius Hayes to cut the margin to a single point. On Auburn’s next possession, the officials called a ten-second violation on Chuma Okeke as the Tigers struggled to get the ball past midcourt, sending Bruce Pearl into a frenzy on the sideline. Fortunately for the Tigers, Florida missed the go-ahead shot with :40 left on their next possession. That set up Auburn for Jared Harper’s isolation three-pointer to clinch the victory.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Auburn vs Florida Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Harper now has 52 points in three games at the SEC Tournament, and has all but willed Auburn into tomorrow’s championship game. Auburn won this game even in the face of supremely accurate shooting from Florida (60.5% FG, 40% 3FG, 10-12 FT), and a huge rebounding deficit (32-17). The Tigers won today thanks to the myriad of turnovers they forced (19) and the points they were able to notch off of those mistakes (20), as well as the sheer volume of shots they took. Auburn out-shot Florida with 56 attempts compared to the Gators 38 attempts.

In addition to Harper, Bryce Brown had another good second half, finishing with 11 points after a scoreless first half. He hit three more three-pointers to bring him up to 358 career makes. That puts him ten made threes away from sole possession of second place in SEC history, with at least two games left in his career. Nobody else scored in double-digits for Auburn, but Chuma Okeke ended up with 9 points, while Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick each added 8. Jalen Hudson and Kevarrius Hayes each led Florida with 16 points.

Auburn improves to 25-9 overall on the season and takes a seven-game winning streak into tomorrow’s SEC Championship Game against either 2-seed Kentucky or 3-seed Tennessee. The Tigers beat the Vols just last Saturday, and went 0-2 against the Wildcats this season. Tipoff will come at high noon CST from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.