Strong Defense Not Enough Vs. Gators

Kenny Gabriel shoots for the Tigers.

Auburn led Florida much of the night, but couldn't hold on as the Gators escaped with an SEC men's basketball victory.

Auburn, Ala.--Tony Barbee's Tigers had a chance to upset Florida, but faded in the final two minutes as the Gators escaped with a 45-40 SEC men's basketball victory on Thursday night.

Auburn is still winless in the SEC after four games. The Tigers are 7-11 overall. The Gators improved to 14-4 overall and 3-1 in the conference.

The game featured the lowest point total for the Tigers in the shot clock era which began in 1985. The last time the Tigers scored 40 or fewer was March 3, 1982 when they defeated Mississippi State 38-36 in overtime.

The Tigers had a chance to defeat the Gators thanks to a strong defensive effort holding the Gators to 28.3 percent shooting, which produced the lowest point total ever for a team coached by Florida's Billy Donovan.

Commenting on Auburn's defense, sophomore guard Earnest Ross said, "That is all we have been working on in practice the last two days--defense, defense, defense. Coach prided us on that because we have been slacking on defense the past few conference games. Our defense kept us in the game until the end."

Commenting on the difference between winning and losing, Ross said, "We had to come up with big plays. They just happened to knock down some big shots. Our defense was good for the most part."

Barbee agreed with Ross that his team played well defensively. "We can't let teams shoot 60 percent on us, which is what we have been doing in the last few games," he said. "Our last couple of days of practice I don't think we ever did anything offensively and it probably showed.

"I was proud of the way the guys fought," Barbee said. "We played how we have to play to survive because of our limited offensive team. We have to guard our tails off and we did that tonight."

Barbee added that he can't remember coaching a team that held the opponent to 28 percent shooting and lost the game.

Auburn, which shot 37.5 percent from the field, hit just 1-8 free throws, which was a major factor in the loss with the Gators making 10-14.

The visitors also out-rebounded the Tigers 40-32. Auburn had 13 turnovers, one less than Florida.

Kenny Gabriel led Auburn in scoring with 12 points and Erving Walker led the Gators with 12. Ross was the game's only other scorer in double figures with 11 points.

"I loved our defense today," said Gabriel, who added four rebounds and said the Tigers played like "junkyard dogs" vs. the Gators. "That is the type of team we need to be."

Florida's Kenny Boynton hit a three-pointer at the top of the circle with just under two minutes left to tie the game at 40-40. After an Auburn turnover, the Gators pulled ahead with a three-point shot Erving Walker and the Tigers called a timeout with 1:10 left to regroup. However, the Tigers turned the ball over on an offensive foul on Ross with 56 seconds left.

After a defensive stop the Tigers got the ball back with 20.3 seconds to play and called another timeout. Auburn got a three-point shot from the corner by Ross to try to tie the game, but the field goal hit the front the rim and was rebounded by Walker who was fouled with 4.6 seconds remaining. He iced the game by hitting both ends of a one-and-one.

Earnest Ross drives to the basket vs. Florida.

At halftime the Tigers led 24-23 after holding the Gators to 27.6 percent shooting from the field. Auburn led by as many as seven points in the opening period while the biggest lead for Florida was three.

The Gators kept the game close by dominating the boards, finishing the half with a plus eight rebound margin.

Earnest Ross led the Tigers offensively in the half with nine points as he made all three of his treys. Another plus for the Tigers was that they turned the ball over just four times in the half, five less than the Gators.

Auburn's poor shooting kept the halftime lead from being larger. The Tigers hit just 38.5 percent of their field goals and they were 1-6 at the free throw line.

News and Notes: Sophomore Ty Armstrong made his season debut and played eight minutes. He was 1-2 from the field and had three rebounds and two turnovers. By playing the 6-9 post player cannot be redshirted now. He missed the first 17 games after having ACL surgery in the summer.

Ty Armstrong grabs a rebound for the Tigers.

Barbee said he made the decision to play Armstrong because he had looked good in practice and because the player had "begged" the coach to play even though he will be available for less than half of the season...The Tigers have a quick turn-around with their next game on Saturday vs. Alabama. The game has been soldout for several weeks...A crowd of 6,876 watched the game that was televised on ESPN...Florida's five-point edge at the end of the action was the largest lead in the game for the Gators who were outscored 26-20 in the points in the paint statistic.

UF's Donovan said it was one of the best wins he has ever been a part of because his team found a way to win despite shooting so poorly. The coach said he expected the game would be a "grind" because of how hard Barbee has his team playing.

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