Gainesville, Florida – Terry Appleby He scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half to help Florida overtake second-place Auburn 63-62 on Saturday and expand their home ground dominance in the series. It was Florida’s first home win against a team that ranked highly in an Associated Press college basketball poll.
The Tigers (24-3, 12-2 Southeastern Conference) lost second in a row on the road—both ended with fans rushing to the floor—and lost their first regulation game. They previously lost to UConn and Arkansas in overtime.
Appleby had everything to do with this, which was the 14th straight Florida over Auburn in Gainesville. The senior made 6 of 9 shots in the second half, including 4 of 6 from a 3-point range, and was perfect from the free throw line.
When the bell rang, Appleby found himself full of students, fans, and teammates in the middle of the field. It was the first time such a scene had unfolded at the O’Connell Center in more than 30 years.
“We’re glad to them that they got to get that moment after the game, for sure,” said Florida coach Mike White, who led 5-0 against Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. “Very special.”
However, the Tigers had a chance in the last seconds. Wendell Green Jr. He got the ball 7.1 seconds before play and was dribbling at the top of the switch when he tried to pass to Walker Kessler down low. Gators smashed it (17-10, 7-7) and the clock ran out.
Florida students flocked to the court to celebrate, but police officers quickly brought them back to the stands. They came back and chanted “Appleby, Appleby.” This was the first court to storm Gainesville since the victory over TCU at NIT in 1986.
“It’s surprising,” White said.
Appleby, the 6-foot-1 guard who moved from Cleveland State three years ago, dominated the stretch, creating open shots for his teammates and hitting a massive three-pointer with about 4 minutes to play and another with 2:16 left that push leads to 61-53.
“We relied a lot on Jabari. We were the best when everyone contributed and that is not the case today,” said Pearl, who also lamented.
The Tigers had been hoping to end the O’Connell Center’s 13 game slip, a losing streak that began shortly after former Florida coach Billy Donovan arrived in Gainesville. Auburn’s last win at Odom came in February 1996, one month before Gators’ Donovan was hired.
Pearl’s team used a strong second half – the opening 20 minutes were close to bad – to dominate. The Tigers managed a 21-4 lead that stretched into the end of the first half, turning their eight-point deficit into a nine-point lead. Smith was big during the boom, contributing two 3-headers, three-point play, flying, two free throws and a blocking shot.
The Gators missed all 10 shots during the 8 1/2 minute period as Auburn bridged the gap and built her lead. But Florida scored seven times in the second half, including three in the last five minutes for victory.
“It feels good. I’m not going to lie to you, it feels really good,” said striker Colin Castleton, who contributed 19 points and eight rebounds.
Auburn will likely drop a few more points in the upcoming AP college basketball poll, which comes out Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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