Florida survives scare at Auburn
Published: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 9:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 11:16 p.m.
AUBURN, Ala. — Florida coach Billy Donovan called it one of the best wins he's ever been a part of.
1.Can Florida take care of the basketball and avoid mistakes?
The Gators turned the ball over nine times in the first half, struggling to penetrate Auburn's zone defense. The Gators trailed 24-23 at halftime but did a better job of taking care of the ball in the second half, turning it over just five times in the final 20 minutes. Overall, Florida's 14 turnovers were two more then the goal of under 12 that coach Billy Donovan set for the game.
2. Will the Gators come out with better defensive intensity after being just mediocre on the defensive end in SEC play?
Florida's defense was much improved against an offensively challenged Auburn team. The Gators held Auburn to 37.5 percent shooting from the floor and 27.3 percent shooting from 3-point range, while forcing 13 turnovers. Also, Florida out-rebounded Auburn 40-32 and limited the Tigers to just nine offensive rebounds.
3. Can Florida shoot the ball better from the free-throw line?
Florida was perfect (5-5) from the free-throw line in the first half. In the second half, Vernon Macklin had a pair of critical misses and Patric Young missed the front end of a one-and-one. But junior point guard Erving Walker hit two straight free throws with five seconds left to ice the game. Florida shot 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) from the line, above its season average.
Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton joked after the game, "ugly is pretty sometimes."
For a national television audience at home, Florida's 45-40 win over Auburn at Auburn Arena was far from must-see TV. Yet for the Gators, it was another critical road win that could have easily gone the other way if not for some clutch shots late.
Boynton, who was one for his previous eight from 3-point range, drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:50 left to tie the score at 40.
"I knew for our team all I needed was for one to fall," Boynton said. "We've been in this position many times, and if that shot doesn't fall, we're in a scramble, we have to get a stop. So I just wanted to keep us in the game."
Then, after a Vernon Macklin steal on an in-bounds play underneath the basket, junior guard Erving Walker drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:14 left to put the Gators ahead to stay 43-40.
Florida (14-4, 3-1 SEC), which was 3 for its previous 23 from 3-point range, finished 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from 3-point range and 15-of-53 (28.3 percent) from the field. The 45 points were the lowest ever scored in Donovan's 15 seasons as UF coach. Florida's previous low under Donovan was 46 points in a 68-46 loss to Michigan State in the second round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
"I don't know if I have ever been a part of a game sitting on the sidelines as a player or coach watching us struggle to shoot the ball as badly as we did tonight," Donovan said. "It was unbelievable."
Walker led Florida with 12 points, the only UF player to reach double-figures in scoring.
"This was a terrible shooting display by us, but we hung in there," Walker said. "We are shooters, but we need to shoot with confidence."
Florida won by getting back to the defense it played during the non-conference schedule, holding Auburn to 16 points in the second half and scoreless for the final 3:30. Auburn's last bucket came on a put-back dunk from forward Kenny Gabriel that put the Tigers up 40-37 with 3:30 left.
Florida out-rebounded the Tigers 40-32, its first positive rebounding margin in SEC play.
"The thing that gets lost in the game is the fact that we really defended," Donovan said. "I think we talked about that. Our defensive numbers had slipped a little bit, and we knew coming in here it was going to be a grind."
Florida held Auburn to its lowest point total since Auburn beat Mississippi State 38-36 in 1982, before the college basketball shot-clock era.
"Our defense won the game for us tonight," Boynton said.
Nowhere was the defensive intensity and awareness more apparent than on Auburn's final two possessions. Walker took a charge on a drive from Earnest Ross with 56 seconds left, keeping Florida ahead 43-40.
Auburn had one last chance to tie the score, but Boynton was all over Ross on a 3-point shot attempt with 6.7 seconds left that clanged off the side of the iron. Freshman Scottie Wilbekin grabbed the rebound, and Walker made two free throws at the end of the floor to ice the game.
"I just wanted to be all in his face but not foul," Boynton said. "I had a feeling they were coming to him, and they ran four screens for him. I fought through the screens and I just stayed on him."
Donovan credited the scouting of assistant coach Rob Lanier to Florida's ability to sniff out the play.
"They ran one of the plays we tried to prepare our guys for," Donovan said.
But Florida was sweating it out against an Auburn team ranked 319th in the Ratings Percentage Index because of inept offensive play throughout the game. The Gators had nine first-half turnovers, which led to five Auburn points. In the second half, Florida did a better job of taking care of the ball (five turnovers) but took some questionable shots over Auburn's 2-3 zone.
"The way they were sagging in the lane, it was tough to get the ball inside and penetrate," Walker said.
It didn't help that Macklin and Alex Tyus each got in early foul trouble, picking up two first-half fouls. Freshman center Patric Young scored just two points, and Erik Murphy, playing in his first game since Dec. 31 against Xavier due to a foot sprain, missed both of his attempts from the floor.
Despite the early struggles, Florida still only trailed 24-23 at halftime. It helped that the Gators were better from the free-throw line, making all five of their first-half attempts. Auburn, meanwhile, kept the Gators in the game by going 1-for-6 from the free-throw line in the first half.
"We missed some bunnies around the basket, and (they) left our perimeter guys to shoot the ball," Donovan said. "We just could not make a shot. Give Walker and Boynton credit at the end of the game. They still had enough confidence to step up and shoot the ball and knock down two big shots, but it was a hard game sitting over there watching our team offensively."
FREE THROWS: Auburn forward Ty Armstrong, who played his sophomore and junior seasons at Eastside High in Gainesville, finished with two points and three rebounds in eight minutes off the bench. ... Young made his third career start for Macklin, who sat out Wednesday's practice with strep throat.