Gators Hold Off Auburn's Upset Bid

The Tigers came up short again as seventh-ranked Florida escaped Auburn Arena with an SEC victory.

Auburn, Ala.--The Tigers forced seventh-ranked Florida to work hard for its 15th basketball win of the season which came for the Gators after they made the winning plays in the final two minutes to hold off Auburn 68-61 on Saturday at Auburn Arena.

Coach Tony Barbee's Tigers fell to 0-4 in the league and 8-7 overall while the Gators remained unbeaten in the SEC in four tries and have just two losses for the season.

For the Tigers it was a second consecutive home Saturday game in which they had a great opportunity to knock off a ranked opponent. Missouri slipped out of town a week earlier with a win just like the Gators did.

Auburn trailed 62-61 with 1:59 to play after Tajh Shamsid-Deen hit a running jump shot in the lane.

Trying to run a play for a teammate, Florida star Scottie Wilbekin couldn't find an opne man to pass to so he made an outstanding one-on-one move to hit a short jumper to stretch the lead to 64-61 with 1:21 left.

K.T. Harrell's three-pointer to tie the game was off target and Florida moved ahead 65-61 with Wilbekin making 1-2 foul shots with 48 seconds left.

"When it all comes down to it, it is all about making winning plays and we didn't make that winning play when we were down three," said senior guard Chris Denson. "I think that is the one that really hurt us and then we fouled coming down so that was the ball game right there."

The Tigers didn't get another shot attempt off until 23 seconds were remaining and Harrell's off-balance layup try was blocked by Patric Young. The Gators then hit three more free throws to ice the victory.

"Give Florida credit," Barbee said. "They made the plays when they had to make them."

The Auburn coach said there "is no such thing as a moral victory," but added he liked his team's effort. "I am proud of this team how hard we are playing, how hard we are fighting and how great the chemistry is on this team.

"The breakthrough is coming," Barbee said. "I believe it. This team believes it. The breakthrough is coming."

In the meantime the Tigers have to try to erase the memory of another game they had a chance to win as they stretched their SEC losing streak to 14 games dating back to last season.

Denson led the Tigers with 21 points and Harrell added 16 points while Allen Payne chipped in with 11 points and a team-high six rebounds.

Denson said it wasn't just the offensive end of the floor where the Tigers came up short vs. the Gators. "With two minutes left they shot the ball and we did not get the 50-50 balls. We lost the 50-50 balls and that contributed to it. We had the chance, but we missed and would end up getting fouled on a bucket. We missed shots, but it all comes down to the trenches on the defensive rebounds and the 50-50 balls."

Freshman Matthew Atewe (right) defends a shot by Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith.

Florida got 21 points off the bench from Casey Prather, who hit 8-10 field goals. Wilbekin added 16 points for the Gators and Young scored 13 points.

The Gators won the game with their shooting, making 53.8 percent of their field goals with a plus eight rebounding margin also a factor in the contest.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said that Auburn's guards gave his defense problems and noted it was a game that "could've have gone either way."

Donovan added, "I think Tony put them in a position to keep them there (close) until the end of the game. They are a good team. They are a much improved team and you can see that on film."

Halftime Numbers: The Gators led by as many as 13 points at the 8:48 mark, but the Tigers regained the lead just before intermission and trailed by only 33-32 at the break. AU hit 9-20 (45 percent) field goals in the half along with 5-5 threes and 9-11 free throws. Florida hit 11-18 field goals, 1-5 threes and 10-13 free throws. The Gators had 11 first half rebounds, the Tigers had nine. AU had 10 turnovers, one more than Florida.

Harrell led the Tigers in first half scoring with 10 points while Payne added nine.The Gators got 16 points from Casey Prather,

Worth Noting, Part 1: Junior forward Chris Griffin, who has been suspended for violation of team rules, plans to transfer. He joined the team this summer from junior college.

Worth Noting, Part 2: Allen Payne, who suffered a injury in the SEC opener at Ole Miss, said he is getting closer to full speed. He was able to play 33 minutes vs. the Gators, a big improvement over the two minutes he was on the court a week earlier vs. Missouri.

"The hamstring is much better," the senior said. "I was not 100 percent in the Tennessee game, but with a couple more days of rest that I had, I feel a lot better now."

Payne said his team really needs to win a game. "We keep saying there is no such thing as moral victories. People are going to tell us that we played really hard and that we almost had them. We cannot be satisfied with that. We were not before and we cannot be now.

"We are at a point where we are desperate for a win right no," he added. "We battle, but at this point it is not good enough. We have to start closing these close games out."

Stat of the Game: The Gators' bench outscored Auburn's bench 28-5 with Prater getting 21 of those points.

The Tigers will return to action at 7 p.m. on Wednesday with a road game vs. Mississippi State.

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