GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — KeVaughn Allen bounced back from his first scoreless game in more than three years with 24 points, including two huge 3-pointers in the closing minutes as Florida beat No. 12 Auburn 72-66 on Saturday night.
Jalen Hudson added 19 points for the Gators, including a pivotal three-point play with 26.8 seconds remaining. Chris Chiozza hit Hudson with a bounce pass on a back-door cut. He got fouled making the layup and then sank the free throw to put Florida up 69-66.
Auburn’s Jared Harper and Bryce Brown missed off-balance 3-pointers in the final minute, and the Gators closed it out from the charity stripe.
It was Florida’s 11th consecutive win in the series and a huge boost to the team’s NCAA Tournament resume.
The Gators (18-11, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) had dropped three straight and six of eight in league play. Coach Mike White’s team had been free-falling since early January, and a fourth loss in a row probably would have left the Gators needing help down the stretch to make the NCAAs.
The win over the Tigers (24-5, 12-4) could be enough to put Florida in the 68-team field for the second straight season.
Gators freshman Dontay Bassett added a career-high 12 points and six rebounds.
Auburn’s loss came just a few hours after photos surfaced on social media sites of coach Bruce Pearl lounging by a hotel pool in Gainesville. It’s common for coaches and players to relax on game day, especially with a late tip, but surely wasn’t the best look when the Tigers started the game flat.
Florida led 10-2 in the opening minutes and was up 33-24 at the break after Allen beat the halftime buzzer with a shot from about 60 feet.
Allen shot 8 of 15, including 6 for 10 from behind the arc. Hudson went 7 of 14, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range.
Mustapha Heron, who missed Auburn’s previous game because of a stomach virus, led the Tigers with 22 points.
Auburn: The Tigers had scored at least 75 points in 10 straight games, but fell well short at Florida. They shot the ball well enough, but all those turnovers proved problematic.
Florida: White had a long conversation with Allen earlier in the week and even asked teammates Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes to reinforce the need for the junior guard to be more aggressive. Whatever was said seemingly worked. Allen scored Florida’s final nine points of the first half, including a 3-pointer from about 60 feet, and reached double figures for the second time in six games.
Florida great Mike Miller was in the O’Connell Center for the first time in years and was recognized during a timeout in the first half. The 36-year-old Miller retired last year after 17 seasons in the NBA.