NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida’s first-half offense was sustainable; Auburn’s was not.
The Gators carried over their hot hand from the upset of 2018-19 SEC regular season champion and top-seeded LSU, 76-73 on Friday, shooting 70 percent from the field in the first half and 50 in the second half.
Jared Harper’s momentum carried over from the Tigers’ previous outing, as well. The junior point guard accounted for 16 of Auburn’s 30 first-half points against UF after 27 points in the quarterfinals win over South Carolina. But he scored just four points in the second half.
However, three of those points — possibly the three biggest of Harper's career — came in the waning moments of the game. And they sent Auburn to the SEC Tournament championship for the first time in 19 years.
Harper buried a pull-up 3-pointer with 12 seconds left as 5-seed Auburn defeated 8-seed Florida on Saturday afternoon, 65-62, advancing to the SEC Tournament finals to face the winner of Kentucky-Tennessee later in the day.
For most 5-foot-10 guards, a deep shot from beyond NBA 3-point range wouldn't be a high-percentage look. But like his teammates and coaches have been preaching all week in Nashville, Harper isn't most guards.
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“I already knew it was going in," Brown said. "Jared has done that so many times this season, it just feels natural at this point.”
After a 3-pointer from Florida's Jalen Hudson followed by a dunk from Kevarrius Hayes, the Gators were down just one, 61-60. On the routine inbound play that followed, the ball remained in Chuma Okeke's hands after 10 seconds had run off the clock, resulting in Auburn's fourth turnover of the day — a season low.
Keyontae Johnson missed the would-be go-ahead 3-pointer, and Okeke grabbed the rebound. Bruce Pearl then called for an isolation and let Harper go to work.
"I backed up, had confidence in my shot, got a good look and made it," Harper said.
Harper said he initially planned on going to the basket and creating for himself or a teammate, but the paint looked clogged. He noticed Florida's Andrew Nembhard backed off, giving Harper more than enough space.
And while most of Auburn's roster is given a green light on shooting for the first 39 minutes of game, Pearl knew whose hands the ball needed to be in come crunch time.
"You can't really complain about open, non-contested," Pearl said. "It was contested, but there's no contact.
"Those are good shots. Obviously don't think Jared is not in the gym all the time. For years the kid going three, two, shot clock down, he's going to make more than he's going to miss."
A controversial finish followed on Florida's end, but when the backboard lit up double zeros, Auburn was advancing to Sunday.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform for my teammates, my team," Harper said.
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