Auburn’s quest for its first SEC championship since 1999 will wait at least a few more days.
After totaling its lowest scoring output in a half this season, Auburn battled back to draw even with 41 seconds to play, but was outlasted by Florida 72-66 Saturday night.
“It’s a very, very disappointing loss,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl on Auburn’s postgame radio broadcast, “Obviously, we don’t have a very happy locker room.”
Auburn trailed by as many as 14 points in the second half in Gainesville, but like they have on many occasions this season, the Tigers battled back.
Auburn grabbed its first lead of the night with 3:55 to play on a corner triple by Mustapha Heron. However, the lead lasted no more than eight seconds.
Jalen Hudson answered with a three of his own to take the lead back from the Tigers.
That became a theme throughout the end of the contest as the Gators answered every time Auburn looked to take the momentum for good.
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Desean Murray gave Auburn a 62-60 lead, its largest of the night, with an and-one with 2:44 to play, but it was quickly erased by a triple from KeVaughn Allen.
After Jared Harper drained a pair of free throws to tie the game at 66 with 41 seconds to play, Hudson followed with an and-one on a sizzling pass from Chris Chiozza to give the Gators a lead they would not relinquish.
A pair of missed threes by Harper and Bryce Brown took away any last second hopes the Tigers had.
“I didn’t think that we made each other better tonight,” Pearl said. “We’re best when everybody contributes. I thought that tonight we just didn’t play that way.”
Heron finished with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting including 4-of-5 from three-point range. Chuma Okeke scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double.
After turning the ball over 13 times in the first half, Auburn only turned it over three times in the second half. The Tigers out-rebounded Florida 41-31, but only outscored the Gators 16-14 on second-chance points.
“I saw us come out in the first half and just not execute,” Pearl said. “Florida turns people over, but not like they should have turned us over in the first half. We just did not execute.”
Allen led all scorers with 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting including 6-of-10 from beyond the arc. Hudson finished with 19 points for the Gators (22-7, 12-5).
Auburn’s lead in the SEC slimmed to just one game on Saturday as Tennessee defeated Ole Miss in Oxford. The Tigers need a combination of two Auburn wins or two Tennessee losses to clinch an outright SEC title. One Auburn win or one Tennessee loss would give the Tigers a share of the title.
“We all know we’re a game away from a championship. So, the pressure builds,” Pearl said. “And the guys are feeling that, absolutely. We’re all feeling that pressure.
“We just got to get one more.”
Auburn (24-5, 12-4) will return to action Tuesday night as it travels to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas. The Tigers defeated the Hogs 88-77 on Jan. 6.
Tip-off inside Bud Walton Arena is set for 8 p.m. CST.
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