Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from the Gators' 61-58 loss to Auburn in SEC opener

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Florida nearly pulled off an upset in its SEC opener at No. 20 Auburn on Wednesday night, but the Gators couldn't finish it off in a 61-58 loss to the Tigers at Neville Arena.

Down 59-58 with 20 seconds left and coming out of a timeout, Florida set up a play for its best player, two-time All-SEC standout center Colin Castleton. But Castleton dribbled the ball off his foot as he backed down in the paint, and off the turnover, Auburn sealed the win with a runout basket in the closing seconds.

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Forward Kowacie Reeves led the Gators (7-6, 0-1 SEC) with 15 points, with guard Myreon Jones adding 10.

“Same scenario, same situation tomorrow, we’d run the same thing for Colin (Castleton)," Reeves said. "He’s our best player. We’re down one, we trust him with the ball in his hands."

Florida put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season, limiting high-powered Auburn to 38.2 percent shooting from the floor. But under first-year coach Todd Golden, the Gators failed to reach 60 points for the fourth straight time against a Power Six opponent.

"If this game was on our schedule a month ago, I don’t know if we could’ve stayed in this game the way we did tonight," Golden said, "We made plenty of mistakes and things we have to correct, but the overall competitiveness, trust, teamwork of our group has gotten really, really good, and I’m really optimistic as we get into this next stretch of our schedule.”

The Gators are off until Jan. 4 when they host Texas A&M in their SEC home opener.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday's loss.

Perimeter slump continues

Florida went 3 of 19 from 3-point range and is just 5 for 41 from 3-point range (12.2 percent) over its last two games.

Florida's best perimeter shooter, Belmont transfer guard Will Richard, is mired in a 0 for 9 from slump from 3-point range over his last two games. Reeves, Jones and Alex Fudge each made one 3-pointer against Auburn, but none of the three could get in a roll to give the Gators the perimeter production needed to pick up a conference win on the road.

Battered on the boards

Florida was out-rebounded 40-28 against Auburn, with the Tigers converting 17 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.

Three times, the Gators failed to block out on missed free throws, which resulted in three second-chance points, the difference in the ballgame.

Castleton bottled up

After scoring 22 points the week before against Oklahoma, Castleton was held in check by Auburn's defense. The 6-foot-11 center was held to 6 points on 1 of 6 shooting.

In the closing minutes, Castleton drew a foul going for an offensive rebound and made a pair of clutch free throws to tie the score at 58. Florida ran the offense through Castleton in the high post and he impacted the game with his passing with four assists, finding Reeves and Fudge on dump down passes inside for wide-open dunks.

But the Gators are going to need more scoring from Castleton if they intend to turn things around in SEC play.

Dec 28, 2022; Auburn, Alabama, USA;  Florida Gators guard Trey Bonham (2) fouls Auburn Tigers guard Wendell Green Jr. (1) during the second half at Neville Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports