AUBURN, Ala. – Chris Moore and Auburn sealed the win with one final defensive play, a fitting finish for a team whose biggest strength has been in getting stops.
Moore got a steal in the closing seconds and Wendell Green Jr. made a layup at the buzzer to cap No. 20 Auburn’s 61-58 victory over Florida on Wednesday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
“That’s our team,” Green said. “We’ve got to win defensively. Offense isn’t always going to be there.”
It wasn’t always there for the Tigers (11-2) against the Gators (7-6) either. But they stayed true to form defensively after coming in allowing just 61.2 points a game.
Moore stole the ball from Gators star Colin Castleton, who was attempting to get away a potential game-winner before Jaylin Williams got in his way in the paint. He passed to Green, who raced for the uncontested final basket.
“Jaylin Williams kind of takes that charge, makes the play and Castleton gets off balance and then it’s a 50-50 ball and Chris comes up with it and we score,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said.
Johni Broome’s layup gave Auburn a 59-58 lead with 1:16 left and Myreon Jones’s missed 3-point attempt went out of bounds for the Gators.
But Alex Fudge picked off a pass from Williams and Florida called time out with 18 seconds remaining. Castleton couldn’t get off a shot.
“We wanted to put the ball in his hands to make a play and see if he could get to the rim and draw a foul,” Florida coach Todd Golden said. “It just didn’t go in our favor.”
Green scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half. Broome had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four assists while Williams scored 13.
Kowacie Reeves led Florida with 15 points and Jones scored 10. Castleton finished 1-of-6 shooting for six points, 10 below his season average. He did have eight rebounds and four assists.
“I thought Colin did a really good job just playing within himself,” Golden said. “Obviously they’re loading up on him. Everything they did defensively was to take him away.”
Broome concurred. “He’s a good player but the main goal of the gameplan was to stop him,” he said.
Green scored his first 10 points in a 1:44 span starting with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the first half. He was fouled twice on early 3-point attempts coming out of the locker room, making 5 of 6 free throws.
Florida scored eight straight points late in the first half and led 26-23. Auburn went 5:45 without a field goal before Green’s 3-pointer at the buzzer for his only points of the half.
Auburn then made five of its last seven shots in a game that was a defensive standoff much of the way.
“We’re going to have to be a team that just has to guard people, because unfortunately offense has been difficult all year,” Pearl said.
Florida: Nearly pulled off the big upset for first-year coach Golden. Castleton had a rare off night, attempting only one field goal in the first half and making his only basket in the opening minute of the second.
Auburn: The Tigers’ 26th consecutive home win tied Kentucky for the fourth longest active streak in the nation. Finished the first half making 2 of its last 13 shots, hitting just 8 of 28 attempts (28.6). Outrebounded the Gators 40-28, including 17 offensive boards.
GOLDEN & PEARL
Golden worked on Pearl’s staff at Auburn from 2014-16, including one season as director of basketball operations before getting promoted to assistant coach.
“This one is a little more emotional for me, because Bruce has just been such a big part of my career as a player and a coach,” Golden said.
It was also emotional for Pearl. “I love Todd like a son,” he said.
Florida hosts Texas A&M on Jan. 4
Auburn visits Georgia on Jan. 4