Tuesday February 23, 2021
Florida Gators at Auburn Tigers
If you’re thinking it’s been awhile since Auburn has played in the friendly confines at Auburn Arena, well you’re right.
Auburn HC Bruce Pearl: "We haven't played at home in 17 days. Three straight road games in the SEC, that hasn't happened since 1997."— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) February 22, 2021
Saturday’s performance, particularly on defense, was disappointing to say the least, a 104-80 setback in Baton Rouge.
Defense has been an issue this season as Auburn is now allowing 77.3 PPG this season, and only two other years this century has Auburn given up more points per game. LSU got pretty much anything and everything they wanted on offense on Saturday and it wouldn’t have made a difference where the game was as impressive as LSU was on Saturday.
Now, Auburn has a pair of home games, possibly the last 2 pending if the Mississippi State gets played next played against Florida and Tennessee, two teams the Tigers have yet to see this season. Last year, Auburn was held to 47 points against the Gators in Gainesville as Auburn lost their 2nd straight game after a 15-0 start to the season.
Florida has had an up and down season on and off the court as they’ve dealt with COVID issues forcing several games to be postponed or cancelled and also the sudden collapse of their best player Keyontae Johnson on the court against Florida State in Tallahassee back in December. Fortunately, Keyontae has made progress and hopefully, he continues to improve and we will get to see him back playing basketball very soon.
Get to Know Florida
The Gators come into tonight’s game 11-6 on the season and 7-5 in the SEC. Right now, Florida has a trip to Rupp on Saturday and host Missouri next week left so this is a game the Gators really need to win as they look to get closer to punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. They’re about a 7-8 seed on most bracket predictions right now.
As a team, Florida averages 76.3 points per game, shoots 35.5% from 3 and 75.4% from the free throw line. Defensively, they give up 70.8 points per game.
The Gators have had to rely on guys stepping up with Johnson’s season ending after 4 games this season. Leading the way is sophomore guard Tre Mann (#1), averaging 14.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG and shoots 39.2% from 3-point range. He is the only Gator that has started all 17 games this season.
Next up is a guy who has been a pleasant surprise for Florida in sophomore forward Colin Castleton (#12). After spending his first 2 seasons coming off the bench for Michigan, Castleton transferred back to his home state and has had a breakout season. He broke out as SEC play started as he put up 22 PPG, 5.5 RPG and was 18-23 from the field in his first 2 SEC games. Castleton has had only 1 game in league play where he hasn’t been in double figures. He’s averaging 13.3 PPG and 5.8 RPG and is an excellent shot blocker, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. He’s blocked at least 6 shots in 3 SEC games this season.
Next is junior guard Noah Locke (#10) who is averaging 11 PPG this season. He is the Gators highest volume 3-point shooter making 39.8% of his 3s this season going 41-103 from 3-point range this season.
Junior guard Tyree Appleby (#22) is next up as he averages 10.8 PPG this season. Tyree is the team leader in steals and is shooting 34.6% from 3 this season.
A couple of other guys to know about for tonight are sophomore guard Scottie Lewis (#23) who is averaging 8.8 PPG this season, junior forward Anthony Duruji (#4) averaging 5.9 PPG and sophomore forward Omar Payne (#5) averaging 4.1 PPG this season. Payne had a monster performance last season against the Tigers going off for 19 points and 11 rebounds while shooting a perfect 9-9 from the field.
Keys for Auburn
With two weeks left in the season, Auburn is looking for at least one more memorable moment that would cap off what’s certainly been a disappointing season. We are all but likely watching the last few games of Sharife Cooper playing in an Auburn uniform. Cooper did what he could offensively on Saturday scoring 26 points but it wasn’t enough to hang with LSU’s offense. Cooper had a season low 2 assists though against LSU and teams have adjusted to seeing him out on the floor as the season has worn on.
Auburn was 7-28 from 3 on Saturday and 4-23 from 3 in last year’s game. This team needed another shooter which makes Justin Powell’s injury an even tougher blow looking back on it. Auburn’s been close in most of their losses but that wasn’t the case on Saturday as it was their largest margin of defeat this season. How will the kids bounce back is something I’m looking forward to seeing tonight.
Auburn really needs to get one of these games this week, whether it be tonight against Florida or Saturday against Tennessee as they look to get some momentum going into an offseason where the expectations will be great for next year’s team. I’m concerned about the matchup inside with Castleton and Payne and looking to see how Auburn’s bigs fare against the Gators. Florida suffered their first ever loss the last time they came to Auburn Arena but I don’t think they will take a second one tonight. It will be close but in the end, I think Florida squeaks by on the road.