Florida vs. Auburn score, takeaways: Gators fall flat in first SEC Tournament final since 2014

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 17, 2024
Florida vs. Auburn score, takeaways: Gators fall flat in first SEC Tournament final since 2014

Image Credit: SEC

A spectacular run in the 2024 SEC Tournament ended with a thud for the (6) Florida Gators, which fell 86-67 to the (4) Auburn Tigers in the championship game on Sunday afternoon. It was Florida’s first appearance in the tournament title game since 2014, and its first runner-up finish since 2013.

Sunday’s 19-point defeat also matched the Gators’ worst loss of the season.

In the end, Florida head coach Todd Golden was outdone by one of his mentors, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl, who used the Tigers’ size and energy to overwhelm an exhausted and ultimately short-handed Gators team. That should not distract from Florida’s achievement this week.

The loss will not do substantial damage to UF’s seeding in the forthcoming 2024 NCAA Tournament, but losing a championship is never easy to stomach no matter the circumstances. Let’s take a look at what went down on Sunday in Nashville, Tennessee.

It was over when … Auburn put an exclamation point on an 8-2 run with chase-down block of redshirt senior point guard Zyon Pullin to preserve a 17 point lead with 5:20 to play. It eventually led by as many as 21.

Florida used a 9-2 run to cut its deficit to a single point early in the period as junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. scored five points, making his first two baskets of the game. However, Pullin uncharacteristically missed consecutive free throws, and the Tigers took advantage with five points in just 14 seconds — as part of an extended 17-4 run — to increase their advantage to 14 with 11 minutes to play. The Gators never got closer than 11 points over the duration of the contest.

First half focus: Florida again started ice cold offensively, opening 2 of 16 from the field to trail by eight after 9 minutes. Auburn soon increased its advantage to 12 points, but the Gators found some fire utilizing the fastbreak to build a 9-2 run, including five points by freshman forward Thomas Haugh, that cut their deficit to five inside 2 minutes. The Tigers ultimately led by eight at the break as UF shot just 28.1% from the field and went 0 of 7 from downtown. Clayton and Richard combined to miss eight shots, committing five fouls and three turnovers. The only positive for Florida was a 12 of 13 mark from the free-throw line.

Exceptional efforts: Haugh played extended minutes and showcased some patient interior offense, scoring 11 points while making 5 of 12 field goals, though he took and missed a trio of 3-pointers. He also grabbed four rebounds. No one else stood out; every Gators starter except redshirt senior forward Tyrese Samuel shot 31% or worse from the field. Samuel posted 12 points and four boards but also committed four fouls.

Important injury: Sophomore center Micah Handlogten suffered severe left-ankle injury just 2 minutes into the game. He was braced and stretchered off the court as the Nashville crowd went silent with players and coaches from both teams wishing him well. While the extent of the injury is not yet known, blood was seen on the court underneath his injured lower leg, and the expectation is that it is broken.

Odds & ends: Florida fell to 83-92 all-time against Auburn with a 4-5 mark in the SEC Tournament … Golden is now 1-2 against Pearl … the Gators are now 49-53 all-time in the SEC Tournament with their first runner-up finish since 2013 in their first finals appearance since 2014 … Florida fell to 4-8 when being outshot by an opponent, 7-7 when being outshot by an opponent from long range … the Gators’ single 3-pointer was their fewest (by three) in a game this season, and their .077 3-point rate was also the worst this season … Florida’s 24 made field goals were its second-fewest this season, and its .364 FG rate was its second-worst of the season

What it means: Not much, really. Florida was playing its fourth game in as many days for the first time in 81 years, including two notably short turnarounds giving it a rest disadvantage in its last two contests. UF lost to the nation’s No. 12 team slotted among the top five in the NET and KenPom rankings. That makes it a Quadrant 1 loss for the Gators, which picked up two such wins in the preceding days. Florida entered No. 26 in the NET and is now 6-8 against Q1 teams, 10-10 against the first two quadrants and 14-1 otherwise.

The Gators are unlikely to reach their ceiling, which was a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, not only due to the loss but because of their performance in the game. However, given how well UF played in the SEC Tournament, it should also avoid its floor of a No. 7 seed. Unless severely penalized for this defeat, the Gators will likely be a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Certainly, given how much energy they have expended over the last week, they will hope to play their first game as late Friday as possible.

What’s next? Florida will now await its NCAA Tournament fate as it tunes in to the Selection Sunday show airing Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on CBS.

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