The fans at Neville Arena got a thrill for the opening game of SEC play, and the Auburn Tigers escaped Florida 61-58 in a frantic finish to improve to 1-0 in conference action.
Auburn’s defense held strong, limiting Florida star Colin Castleton to just 6 points on 1-6 shooting, and the trio of Wendell Green, Johni Broome, and Jaylin Williams combined for 41 of the Tigers’ 61 points on the evening. In a wild finish, Auburn stole a Castleton pass and Wendell Green laid in the insurance bucket with just a second to play.
The Tigers dominated the paint, but turnovers and foul shots proved costly as they made this a closer game than it needed to be. Auburn shot 16-24 from the line, while Florida hit 17-19 free throws, and the Tigers turned the ball over 15 times while going just 3-14 from deep.
Despite hitting just three three-pointers, the game opened on one from Jaylin Williams, and the Tiger defense showed up over the first few minutes as they led 7-3 at the first stoppage. Florida went on a short run to tie the game at 9-9 before the Tigers pushed ahead 13-11 at the under-12 timeout. At the midpoint of the first half, Kowacie Reeves scored to give the Gators their first lead of the night, and Dylan Cardwell’s jumper with 5:46 to go until the half put Auburn ahead 19-16. Myreon Jones hit four free throws over the next couple of minutes to tie the game at 20-20, and then Florida made back-to-back buckets to go up 24-20, an they led 26-23 at the break.
Scoring broke out in the early minutes of the second half, and a Johni Broome layup put Auburn back on top 32-30 before the first timeout of the period. Neither team led by more than four points during the second half, and at the thirteen-minute mark Reeves hit a big three to give the Gators a 41-38 lead. As Auburn drew closer, he hit another shot to keep the lead at three points, but Jaylin Williams and Chris Moore scored consecutively to put Auburn ahead for the first time in a while. At the 7:12 mark, CJ Felder put Florida on top by their largest lead of the half at 50-46, and then with 4:37 to play, Trey Bonham hit a short floater to keep that lead at 54-50. With 1:14 to go, Broome hit a layup to give the Tigers a 59-58 advantage, and then a rebound by Auburn gave them a chance to ice the game.
On their next possession, Jaylin Williams threw the ball right into the hands of Alex Fudge, and Florida called timeout. With just seconds to play and on Florida’s final chance, Castleton lost the ball, Chris Moore found it, tossed it ahead to Wendell Green for the clincher. Florida’s last second shot fell short and the Tigers won 61-58.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
After watching what Colin Castleton did to us last year, Johni Broome gets the honor here. He held Castleton to just 6 points on 1-6 shooting, while going for 14 points, 11 boards, and 4 assists.
Auburn is on the floor a week from tonight in Athens against Georgia. Tip-off comes at 5:30 pm CST/6;30 pm EST from Stegeman Coliseum.