GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After trailing for much of the game, Florida mounted a tense rally that concluded with five foul shots by center Patric Young and guard Scottie Wilbekin in the final 20 seconds, and the Gators held off Auburn’s upset bid, 71-66, on Wednesday night.
“We’ve been in situations like this before,” Young said. “We know how to fight back. We know how to get stops.”
Second-ranked Florida managed to win its 18th straight game, a new school record. The Gators (24-2) also extended their record home winning streak to 30 and their best start ever in SEC play (13-0). They also matched the best overall start in school history.
The Gators had to overcome their largest halftime deficit of the season (eight points) and have either trailed or were tied in five straight games at the break — winning them all.
“I thought Auburn out played us,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m just calling it like it is, we did not do a good job defensively.”
Auburn, which made 10 of 19 3-pointers, started the second half by continuing its impressive shooting from behind the arc. Florida managed to pull even at 41-41 with a basket inside by Young, who finished with 17 points, with 16:32 left. But the Tigers scratched back to reclaim the lead and held off the Gators until around the 10-minute mark.
Forward Will Yeguete hit a pair of free throws to put Florida up 52-51 at 9:38. Wilbekin (15 points) followed with a bucket and it looked like the Gators were going to take control.
Instead, there were three lead changes in the next three minutes. Forward Allen Payne put Auburn up 58-56 with the Tigers’ ninth 3-pointer in 15 attempts at that point.
Wilbekin hit two foul shots and it was tied with 5:58 remaining.
After a couple more lead changes, Auburn guard KT Harrell (14 points) hit his second 3-pointer of the game to make it 62-60.
Tigers center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum was fouled with 3:10 left and hit one of two foul shots.
Gators forward Dorian Finney-Smith hit a pair of foul shots to cut the margin to 63-62, and Young hit a foul shot to tie it back up.
Auburn guard Chris Denson, who had 15 points, made two foul shots to put the Tigers back up and set up the last-second heroics.
“We have to do a better job of not coming out and putting ourselves in a hole like that,” said Gators guard Mike Frazier, who also hit a clutch 3-pointer with 40.5 seconds left.
The first half was a highlighted by impressive runs from both teams. Auburn, which lost 68-61 to the Gators earlier in the season but was in the game until the end, stayed even with Florida in the early going Wednesday.
The Gators took their first lead at 10-9 on a basket off a rebound by forward Casey Prather. After the Tigers went back on top, Florida responded with its first major rally, scoring eight consecutive points.
Guard DeVon Walker hit a 3-pointer and Prather added two baskets off drives plus a foul shot to give Florida an 18-13 advantage.
Auburn came back with a 12-0 run. Guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who shot 4-for-6 from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes, hit two 3-pointers to spark the run. He scored 11 of his 17 points in the first half.
“We have two of the best guards in the country in CD and KT and everybody game plans for those two, so tonight they just threw the extra pass and I was able to know shots down,” said Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who finished with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting behind the arc. “They made me a lot better tonight.”
Back came Florida, and this this time Wilbekin connected on consecutive shots from behind the arc, tying the score at 27 with 3:50 left in the half.
Then it was Auburn’s turn again.
Harrell hit his second 3-point attempt to put the Tigers back ahead. Payne hit another 3-pointer, and Auburn was on top 33-27. The Tigers led 38-30 at the break.
“I knew that if we stuck to the process and kept pounding eventually we would get
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