Florida pulled off one of the biggest upsets this season, knocking off Auburn on Saturday in Gainesville.
If there ever was a time when the Gators needed a big win, today was the day.
The Tigers came in ranked no. 2 in the country but couldn’t contain the gritty Gators, who were all over Auburn from the start, leading to the 63-62 Florida win.
They couldn’t keep them off the court today, with Florida students rushing the floor as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The Tigers couldn’t find a shot — down 63-62 with :08 seconds remaining.
Wendell Green Jr. drove toward the basket but couldn’t score, then tried to pass it off to Walker Kessler, who fumbled the ball and the clock ran out.
Bruce Pearl said postgame that he should’ve called a timeout as soon as he saw Florida back off defensively on the final play.
The Gators were led by Tyree Appleby, who scored 26 points, coming up huge in the final few minutes of the game. It was also Colin Castleton causing problems for the Tigers, especially in the paint. He finished the game with 19 points and eight rebounds, going toe-to-toe with Walker Kessler around the basket.
“Well, we just didn’t play well enough to win tonight. Give Florida credit. They made some really big shots in the end.
“If we don’t limit how we execute in our half-court offense, it’s going to limit how far we can go,” Pearl added about the loss and the way it happened.
This was exactly the type of win Florida needed to get into the NCAA Tournament, a huge resume’ builder and could propel them into the postseason.
Even with Jabari Smith scoring 28 points for Auburn, they still didn’t answer the Gators late in the game. The Tigers led by as much as 8 points in the second half but kept giving the Gators second chances with offensive rebounds. So, Florida made them pay for it towards the end, even after missing a few free throws.
“We’re at our best when everybody contributes, and we had to rely too much on Jabari tonight,” Bruce Pearl noted regarding Jabari Smith.
The turnovers were a huge disappointment for the Bruce Pearl-led squad, committing 17 on Saturday. This team has shown at times that when the outside shot isn’t falling, they try to rely on Kessler or Smith to bail them out. But it wasn’t happening in Gainesville today, even with the Gators only having three players score 7 points or more. This also hit the Tigers, only having three players with other 10 points while getting beat on long rebounds and sloppy possessions.
Once Florida took the eight-point lead with just over 1:20 to play, most people would think it was over, but the Tigers kept pushing. This will go down as a bad loss for Auburn, as they should’ve handled the Gators with ease, especially with their guard play and post presence. But on Saturday, It was all Florida in the final six minutes. When you don’t put your opponent away, outcomes like today in Gainesville can happen.
So, Auburn now sits at 24-3 over the regular season and 12-2 in SEC play. If you hear some folks cheering, it’s probably coming from Lexington and Knoxville, with both teams within striking distance, even though the ‘Cats already lost to the Tigers.
Either way, the final games of conference play have become much more important, thanks to the Florida Gators.
Follow along on Twitter: @TreyWallace_