The Tigers led the first nine minutes of the game and trailed just 32-30 at the break. However, Florida started the second half with a 10-0 run and the Gators pulled away for an 81-60 victory.
Auburn finished its season at 12-16 overall while the Gators improved to 22-7.
"We wanted to shorten the clock and when we went into halftime with a two-point deficit, we were right where we wanted to be," Auburn Coach Cliff Ellis said. "We wanted the game in the 50s or 60s." With strong play from guard Brett Nelson and center Udonis Haslem, the Gators forced Auburn to quicken the tempo in order to get back into the game.
Coach Cliff Ellis
"The biggest thing that hurt us was the boards," Ellis added. "We were right there. I thought the second shots were the key to them being able to expand the lead.
"I was pleased with our team. They fought. We were a little handicapped on the boards and we didn't have enough firepower."
With Haslem hitting all seven of his field goal attempts and all eight of his free throws, he scored 22 points. He led all rebounders with 10. Nelson made six of 11 three-pointers to lead the Gators in scoring with 23 points. He added five rebounds and helped the Gators control the boards by a 38-26 margin.
Ellis said the Tigers had to abandon their deliberate offensive style and zone defenses and that was one of the reasons why the Gators scored 49 points in the final 20 minutes, 17 more than in the first half. "That is what you have to try to keep them out of," he said.
For the Tigers, junior Marquis Daniels played a strong all-around game, playing hard on defense while playing inside at the forward spot with Kyle Davis a no-go with a broken wrist. The Tigers were down to just seven scholarship players and Daniels says he knew he had to play well for Auburn to have a chance for an upset. His numbers are impressive: 23 points, 8-14 field goals, 3-5 three-pointers, seven rebounds, two fouls, three assists, three turnovers and one steal in 33 minutes and 58 seconds of action.
"We felt a kind of sense of urgency and so we just wanted to play hard," Daniels said. "Our focus was to keep playing hard and things would work out, but unfortunately the ball just didn't bounce our way."
Adam Harrington was Auburn's only other player to score in double figures with 12 points. He hit 5-12 field goals, but had just one rebound in 33 minutes and 51 seconds of playing time. Harrington said, "I think Marquis played great in the second half."
Harrington played well early, helping Auburn jump to a quick 7-0 lead. Daniels got the scoring started with a basket and Harrington followed with a three-point bomb and a two-handed stuff on a fastbreak less than two minutes into the game.
The Gators pulled even at 15-14 by the 11:51 mark and then scored seven more points, but Auburn hung tough and cut the gap to two on a tip-in by Daniels to beat the halftime buzzer.
The Gators stretched the lead to 50-36 six minutes into the second half with good shooting by Nelson causing problems. The Tigers cut the lead back under double figures midway through the half and narrowed the margin to 53-45 at the 9:02 mark on a stuff by Daniels. However, six-foot-nine, 246-pounder Haslem took over inside and led the Florida charge that steadily built the lead the rest of the half.
In addition to dominating the rebounding stats, Florida also had just 11 turnovers, five fewer than the Tigers. The Gators blocked five shots to just one for Auburn and the Gators had six steals, one more than Auburn.
Florida hit 49.2 percent of its field goals while Auburn made 44.2 percent. The Tigers had one of their better free throwing shooting efforts, nailing 11-13 while Florida made 16-23. The Gators hit 7-20 three-pointers while Auburn made 6-20.
"Florida is a great team," Auburn's Daniels said. "We came out with a lot of intensity, but with Florida you have to play almost a perfect game."
Guard Dwayne Mitchell
Freshman Dwayne Mitchell scored nine points for the Tigers while Derrick Bird and Lewis Monroe each scored a half dozen points. Matt Bonner and James White scored nine for the Gators.
"Florida is a great team and they are well coached," Ellis said. "He (Florida Coach Billy Donovan) made some great adjustments at the half."
Donovan said he was wary going into the game because he figured a short-handed Auburn club would have some new wrinkles ready and he says that the Tigers used their changing defenses to keep the Gators off balance. "I have a lot of respect for Cliff Ellis, and I knew he wouldn't play us the same way he did in Gainesville," Donovan said. "I felt like the first five minutes we played right into their hands.
"Marco Killingsworth is going to be a great player," Donovan added. "I was really impressed with some of the things he did tonight, but he was a college freshman going up against a senior. I thought we played a great game because we came up against something we hadn't seen all year (multiple changing defenses and slow pace). We scored 49 points in the second half."