For the second time in the last two road trips, Auburn found itself struggling to play against an extremely motivated team in an arena that they’ve hardly ever enjoyed.
Florida beat the 2nd-ranked Tigers today 63-62 to drop Auburn to 24-3 overall, and 12-2 in the SEC. With the loss, and with Kentucky’s victory at home over Alabama today, Auburn now holds a one-game lead on the Wildcats for the regular season conference title, and the Tigers still hold the tiebreaker for the top seed in the SEC Tournament.
Jabari Smith continued his torrid pace, picking up right where he left off on Wednesday night against Vanderbilt with a 28 point outburst, following up his 31-point night against the Commodores. However, it wasn’t enough as Florida got 26 points from Tyree Appleby, including 20 in the second half, and took down Auburn at home.
The first half was as sluggish for both sides as you could imagine. Auburn fell behind early, 8-3, with the Gators hitting two threes in the opening two minutes. The Tigers pulled within a 14-12 deficit on a Jabari Smith layup, but Colin Castleton answered with a layup of his own and with four minutes remaining in the half the Gators held a 22-14 lead. Auburn fought back and found momentum, however. A three from Smith preceded a a Walker Kessler dunk and a layup from K.D. Johnson, and the Tigers went into the half trailing 22-21.
Auburn outshot the Gators in the first half, and hit 3-7 threes, but didn’t shoot a free throw and committed several costly turnovers to reduce the volume on a fairly efficient shooting performance. After the intermission, the Tigers came out and made a statement for the first few minutes.
After Castleton opened the half with a pair of free throws, Auburn then rolled of 10 straight points, with 8 straight coming from Smith. Two K.D. Johnson free throws ran the lead to 9 at 35-26 five minutes into the half, but Tyree Appleby found the stroke and started to go nuts from behind the arc. He hit one three, immediately followed by an Anthony Duruji three, but Auburn punched back, still holding a 44-36 lead at the 11:00 mark.
Appleby then hit a jumper, a three-pointer, two foul shots, and another layup all in the span of two minutes to pull the Gators within a 46-45 deficit. After a missed jumper from Jabari, Philandrous Fleming buried a three to put Florida back on top with 7:36 left. Auburn never recovered, getting within a possession on another three from Jabari, but it was sandwiched between threes from Appleby and Fleming. With just 2:16 left, Auburn trailed 61-53. The Tigers locked in and got free throws from Johnson and Smith to get within a 62-58 deficit. Then a layup by Johnson cut the game to a one-possession affair. With two more foul shots from Johnson at the :23 second mark, Auburn trailed by just one, and then the Tigers got a steal on the inbound play and set up an out of bounds play with just :07 on the clock.
Wendell Green took the inbound pass and tried to wrap a pass inside for Kessler to dunk for the win, but the entry pass was blocked and the clock ran out without Auburn getting off a shot.
- Jabari Smith has finally fully arrived, and we just need to have him get angrier and angrier (which might happen if we lose like this) to where he forces us not to lose. Following up a 31-point outing with a 28-point outing on the road is the exact way for him to achieve the heights we know he’s capable of. If he turns the corner like Chuma did in 2019, and keeps up this kind of output for the rest of the season, we won’t lose again.
- Sometimes you just end up running into a team on a day where they can’t miss, and even so the Tigers nearly pulled this one off. It’s apparent that the defense will always be there, since they limited a Florida team that hit everything to just 63 points, and that total included 15 free throws on 19 opportunities.
- What seems to have Auburn stumped is playing in decidedly hostile crowds, and after next Saturday, that won’t really happen again. I would guess that the SEC Tournament games will be pro-Auburn crowds except when they play Kentucky, but it won’t be a true road game. The NCAA Tournament will probably be even more pro-Auburn.
- The team is clearly figuring out what’s going on with being a highly-ranked team with a target on its back. This is now two teams that have rushed the court after beating us, and both of those teams have won national championships since the 1992 SEC expansion. It would be quite like Alabama beating #1 Mississippi State in football and rushing the field. Auburn is now the hunted, and still leading the race for the SEC title, and likely still a 1-seed at 24-3 overall at the moment. Finish the regular season at a 3-1 clip at worst, and you still beat Kentucky, take the conference title, and go into the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites. Taking a blow to the nose now is better than getting surprised in a month’s time.
- Looking at the entirety of the SEC race, the Tigers are still a game up on Kentucky and now two games up on Tennessee after Arkansas beat the Vols today and held them to 48 points. Tennessee came back to earth a bit after that win over Kentucky, and now need to beat Auburn and have the Tigers lose another game to tie us in the standings.
It’s back home before going back out on the road for two more games as the Tigers get the return trip from Ole Miss on Wednesday night with a 7:30 pm CST tip-off.