3 takeaways from Florida basketball team's upset win over No. 2 Auburn

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

Led by a UF-career-high 26 points from Tyree Appleby, the Florida basketball team secured its most impressive victory of the season, narrowly defeating No. 2 Auburn, 63-62, Saturday at the Exactech Arena. 

Florida (17-10, 7-7 SEC) closed the first half on a 4:03 scoring drought yet led by a point, 22-21, at halftime. 

Auburn (24-3, 12-2), the top-ranked team in the SEC, used a 21-4 scoring run that stretched across both halves in turning an eight-point deficit into a nine-point advantage with 15:22 left in regulation. It appeared as if the Gators were on their way to a double-digit defeat — before Appleby got the hot hand. 

Appleby scored 20 in the second half on 6-of-9 shooting to help the Gators take a eight-point lead with 2:16 remaining. But the Tigers wouldn’t go away, and K.D. Johnson’s free throws cut Florida’s lead to just one ith 23.6 seconds remaining. UF managed to beat Auburn down the floor and call timeout with 9.9 seconds left, only to turn it over on the inbounds play. 

Auburn had one final possession, but Johnson’s pass attempt to Walker Kessler was deflected by Phlandrous Fleming as time expired, sending Florida to its second Quadrant 1 victory of the season. 

"You have to learn how to win," UF coach Mike White said, "and this team's come a long way in that department."

Following the victory, fans rushed to center court, marking the first time Florida fans have rushed the court since UF's 77-75 win over Texas Christian University in 1986 in the NIT. 

Here are 3 takeaways from Saturday’s contest. 

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The Tyree Appleby show

White expected Appleby to be back to his usual self after the former Cleveland State transfer was limited for UF’s previous two contests with a re-aggravated thigh bruise. 

White’s prediction rang true Saturday as Appleby helped lead the Gators to the victory. He knocked down half of Florida’s 10 makes from long-range against the Tigers.

"It felt good, just seeing the ball go in the hole," Appleby said. "My teammates kept feeding me, and we kept getting stops. I was just in the moment."

That didn't mean Appleby was trying to freelance against the Tigers. He was simply benefitting from Florida's ball movement and capitalizing on what the defense was giving him.

"I still tried to get us into offense and try to get the best shot," Appleby said. "Because we like 'A' shots, and bad shots lead to their transition offense, so we still want to take the best shot available."

UF shows improved effort on the glass

In the lead-up to Saturday’s showdown, White also pinpointed UF’s deficiencies in the rebounding department, saying the Gators needed to improve when it came to boxing out the opposition and chasing loose balls coming off of the rim. 

Against Auburn, the conference’s best rebounding team, the Gators showed far greater effort on the glass, but UF was still outrebounded, 38-27, by the Tigers. Despite hauling in eight offensive rebounds, Florida scored just once on a second-chance opportunity.

Florida forward Colin Castleton had 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go along with eight rebounds against the Tigers. 

Castleton credited White with the team's success, saying the game plan put Florida in position to secure the monumental upset. 

"I'm just happy for Coach White. He does everything he needs to do everyday," Castleton said. "We've come up a couple games pretty short, but I'd say a couple of those games are on us, we did things we weren't supposed to. But he puts us in position every game to win."

Jabari Smith of Auburn dazzles in loss

Auburn freshman Jabari Smith continued his impressive run in Saturday’s contest. Smith, who is regarded as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, finished with a game-high 28 points on 7-of-16 shooting in 33 minutes of play. Smith converted 4-of-5 three-point opportunities against the Gators. 

In the postgame media session, both Castleton and Appleby struggled for words when asked to describe Smith's skill set. 

"That man, he's nice," said Appleby. "We just wanted to make it tough for him all night."

White was a bit more effusive in his praise of the likely one-and-done Smith, adding the freshman's final statistics wouldn't have indicated a Florida victory. 

"I wouldn't have guessed that we would have won a game with Jabari getting 28," White said. "He was the focal point defensively of everything we were trying to do, didn't do a great job on him ... but I thought we did a very good job on the other guys as a whole. Jabari was ridiculous."