On a basketball blood day, Auburn got a test from the Florida Gators on a Saturday night, but withstood the push and ended up taking a win that those who look at the box score won’t understand how stressful it was for a while
Auburn spent a bunch of time without both Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler due to a foul-filled basketball game, and the bench bunch struggled a tad, but never gave up the lead once the Tigers took it early. In the end, K.D. Johnson is back after a 23 point affair, Jabari Smith scored 13 points after he missed close to a third of the game with foul trouble, and Wendell Green and Jaylin Williams combined for 27 points off the bench, including some logo threes from Green to wow the crowd.
The first half started off with Auburn mostly in control. After the Gators opened the scoring on a Tyree Appleby three-pointer, the Tigers ripped off 6 straight points, and then blew open a 15-7 lead at the first media timeout. K.D. Johnson hit the first of his threes to send the game into the break, with Auburn roaring in front of a packed home crowd.
Heading toward the middle portion of the first half, Jaylin Williams made two straight buckets, including a three that doubled the score at 22-11 in favor of Auburn. Zep Jasper’s jumper before the under-12 timeout gave the Tigers their largest lead of the half at 24-11. As Florida cut the margin to 7 points, a Jabari Smith three reestablished the double-digit lead, and another three by K.D. Johnson in the final two minutes gave Auburn their 13-point advantage back before Anthony Duruji hit a three to pull the score to 39-30 in favor of Auburn at halftime.
To begin the second half, fouls continued to become a huge issue, as Jabari Smith was whistled for his third infraction less than a minute into the action. The rhythm of the game slowed, and Florida whittled down the difference to just 4 points multiple times, with a Colin Castleton free throw getting them within a 50-46 game at the 14:19 mark. Auburn was defending on Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams to this point, with both hitting shots to help boost the lead back to 8 points at 56-48 nearing the under-12 break of the second half.
Due to the incredible number of fouls, both teams were in the bonus with 12 minutes to play, and Auburn started to tighten up as Walker Kessler got his fourth foul and Bruce Pearl tried to salvage some minutes with the bench bunch. Flanigan got into the action with two straight buckets to stave off a total collapse with Florida punching closer and closer. On two occasions, the Gators cut the lead to a single basket on Castleton makes, but Flanigan answered each time and we hit the under-8 timeout with Auburn up 60-56.
Out of the break, Duruji hit another three to pull within one, but Jabari Smith answered and put Auburn back up by four as he came in after a lengthy rest. After Florida cut the lead back to a single possession, Auburn then decided to run them out of the gym. Wendell Green hit a layup, then K.D. Johnson buried another three, After Jabari Smith hit two of three foul shots on a trip to the line, Green gave the Auurn Arena crowd something to get hype for.
Smith hit another foul shot and Johnson made another driving layup before Green hit what was assuredly the dagger as the clock passed under 2 minutes to play. His layup made it 78-65 Auburn with 1:55 to go, and Auburn was able to help bury this game at the foul line down the stretch along with the strength of K.D. Johnson, who closed the game with an old-fashioned three-point play with :11 remaining and a fastbreak layup just four seconds later. In the end, Auburn took a double-digit victory 85-73 to improve to 14-1 on the season.
Auburn will take to the road for what will surely be one of the toughest tests of the season, as the Tigers visit Alabama on Tuesday night. Tip-off will come from the derelict depot of Coleman Coliseum at 8 PM CST on the 11th.