Observations: Florida 81, Auburn 65
The Tigers' longtime woes in Gainesville continued Saturday, as Auburn wasn't nearly as sharp as a fresher Florida team playing at home.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Maybe it’s the weather.
Maybe it’s something about the travel.
Maybe it’s one of those college sports streaks that’s destined to hang around much longer than anyone would’ve ever expected.
Maybe it’s some sort of cosmic punishment from the basketball gods. At least, that’s what Bruce Pearl joked that it might be.
“What I'm paying the price for was my first two years at Tennessee — Dane Bradshaw and that crew beat the two-time national champion Florida Gators two out of three times,” Pearl said Saturday evening.
Whatever it is, it continues to haunt Auburn inside the O’Connell Center at the campus of the University of Florida.
Auburn hasn’t won there since 1996. Pearl has coached what has been the SEC’s third-best road team over the last seven seasons to some big-time successes — but he’s still winless with the Tigers in Gainesville.
And that rough history came right out and hit Auburn from the beginning Saturday. Florida was up by nine points before Auburn scored for the first time. The Gators would go on a 10-0 run to lead by 17 a little more than halfway through the first half.
Auburn won the remaining 29:11 of regulation, but only by a single point. The damage was already done, and Florida led by as many as 29 in the second half before some late life from Auburn cut it to what was ultimately an 81-65 loss.
“I knew (Florida) would start well both halves,” Pearl said. “I just didn't think it would get away from us as much as it did.”
Pearl’s three previous Auburn teams that had to play a road game at Florida were great ones. Two of them won SEC regular-season titles. The other one was No. 2 in the conference before COVID ended the postseason before it began.
But the 2022 trip featured a high turnover rate (26.4%) and a shooting performance that was well below Auburn’s usual standard (45% eFG). Auburn scored only 47 points in 2020 and had an effective field goal percentage of 29.1%. And, in 2018, the Tigers turned the ball had a slow offensive start and turned the ball over on 24.7% of their trips down the floor.
The 2024 visit to Gainesville had similar characteristics. Auburn turned the ball over 21.5% of the time, which led to 16 Florida points. The Tigers went 3-17 (17.6%) from 3-point range, while the Gators had the same number of makes in just their first four attempts.
Florida still scored 81 points, even with the long field goal drought. Auburn’s usually elite defense allowed nearly 40 points in the paint and saw two different Gators finish the game with 20 or more points. And it took Florida going the final 9:40 without a made field goal for Auburn to have enough offense for a stronger stretch on the scoreboard.
“I mean, I'm glad our guys kept playing for it, kept playing,” Pearl said. “And we were able to close it down. Nobody's proud of a 16-point loss, though.”
It was an all-around rough day for Auburn at Florida, which has been a theme that longtime Tigers fans know too well by now. Auburn lost some ground in a heated SEC championship race, although Tennessee was unable to fully capitalize on it later in the day with its own 16-point road loss at Texas A&M.
Losing at Florida isn’t a total knockout blow to Auburn’s title hopes, and it’s not going to do a ton of damage to its NCAA Tournament résumé. Yet, even in what was always going to be a tough matchup, Auburn definitely wanted to put up a better effort on both ends of the floor than what it showed Saturday.
“This is one of the hardest places to win in the league,” Pearl said. “By the way, they haven't lost but one game at home — to Kentucky, and they probably should've won that one. They're probably not gonna lose at home again. … I would have liked to have played better. I would have liked to have it be competitive.
Here are three big Observations from Auburn’s 81-65 loss at Florida, along with the Rotation Charts, Nerd Stats and the Quote of the Night.