Posting the worst offensive performance since head coach Billy Donovan took over the team 15 years ago, the Florida Gators (14-4, 3-1 SEC) squeaked past the Auburn Tigers (7-11, 0-4 SEC) 45-40 on the road at the brand new Auburn Arena Thursday.
Equally inefficient in both halfs, Florida shot 28.3 percent from the field (15-of-53) and 19.2 percent from downtown (5-of-26). Luckily for the Gators, they limited a similarly poor-shooting Tigers squad to 37.5 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from beyond the arc. Auburn also failed to capitalize on their free throw attempts, hitting only 1-of-8 from the charity stripe, while Florida was a surprising 10-for-14 from the line including 6-for-7 in the first half.
The Gators led for the first 7:20 of the game until the Tigers took off on a 10-0 run to go up 18-11. Florida turned the ball over nine times in the first half, missed 14 of their last 16 shots and trailed Auburn 24-23 in what looked to be their worst start to a game this season since posting only 20 points against then-No. 5 Kansas State on Dec. 18.
UF started the second half in similar fashion, missing their first eight shots from downtown, first three from the charity stripe and 12 of their first 16 attempts.
Junior point guard Erving Walker ‘s three-pointer with 7:16 remaining in the game gave the Gators a 35-34 lead that was handed back on a wide-open dunk just one play later. Trying to keep Florida in the game with a high-energy effort, senior forward Alex Tyus was sent to the line and made two free throws to put UF up 37-36 with 4:17 left; once again the Gators handed the lead right back to the Tigers allowing them to score four-straight points to take a 40-37 lead.
Down three with 2:08 to go, Donovan took a 30 second timeout; sophomore guard Kenny Boynton nailed a trey on the following possession to tie the game at 40. Walker then stepped up with three consecutive plays that wound up sealing the game.
Stealing the ball on an inbounds play with 1:20 left, Walker drained a three. On the next possession he drew a charge in the paint to give the ball back to Florida. He wound up taking an ill-advised jump shot and turning the ball over on the next possession but would hit two free throws to ice the contest and conclude a game-ending 8-0 run.
Walker wound up leading UF with a game-high 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Senior F Chandler Parsons and redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin each grabbed a game-high six rebounds helping their team out-rebound the opposition 34-27.
Florida hopes to turn things around on Saturday as they return home to face Arkansas at 8 p.m. The game will air live on FSN.
Photo Credit: Todd J. Van Emst/Associated Press