The seventh-ranked Florida Gator men’s basketball team went into a tough environment inside Auburn Arena Saturday afternoon and came away with a 68-61 victory over the Auburn Tigers.
The Gators improve their record to 15-2 on the season and 4-0 in SEC play. The Gators now sit as the only undefeated team in the conference and continue to show that they can win close games regardless of the opponent.
Coming into this contest the most important player to look at was senior guard Casey Prather who is leading the Gators in scoring this season. Gators coach Billy Donovan said that his leading scorer was cleared to play, but would receive a limited amount of minutes. However it was clear that Prather was feeling a lot better than Donovan led everyone to believe,
As many thought, Prather was held out of the starting lineup but saw the court very early into the game. Prather began the game lights out as he has done much of the year scoring 7 of the Gators first 12 and he failed to miss for most of the game. In just his 29 minutes on the court, Prather scored 21 points shooting 8-10 from the field, 5-7 from the free throw line. The senior also hauled in six rebounds, one steal and one assist, and Donovan noticed very quickly his team needed him.
“The lessened minutes was thrown out the window very early when he had 16 at the half. We decided to keep him on the floor and he played pretty good,” Donovan said.
Overall, the Gators finished Saturday afternoon with three in double digits. Besides Prather, senior guard Scottie Wilbekin finished with 16 points and senior center Patric Young found himself in double digits for the sixth straight game with 13.
Heading into Saturday’s game, you wouldn’t think anyone would be saying the Gators escaped with a victory but as it has been all season, a road game in the SEC is no easy task. The Gators found themselves doing all the little things to let Auburn stay in the game. The Gators finished with just 10 assists and 14 turnovers, and Wilbekin played into those numbers finishing with just one assist and five turnovers.
Before this game, Donovan talked about the scorers Auburn possessed and they certainly did not disappoint. The Tigers were led on Saturday once again by the two leading scorers in the SEC overall. Senior guard Chris Denson finished with 21 points, shooting 8-18 from the field and 2-5 from three. His counterpart, junior KT Harrell finished with 18 points, shooting 5-13 from the field and 4-7 from downtown.
It was the three ball that kept the Tigers alive and dangerous in this game, and gave the fans inside Auburn Arena hopes of an upset. The Tigers shot 7-13 from behind the line and started a perfect 5-5.
For the Gators it was the complete opposite as they shot 3-9 as a team from distance. The SEC’s top three point shooter and Gators sophomore Michael Frazier II shot 0-2 from distance and most importantly failed to score at all. Following an impressive performance against the Georgia Bulldogs, Donovan talked about Frazier’s lapse just one game later.
“He has to find other ways to move, he’s got to play the game without shooting it. We tried to do some things to get him some shots, he missed a couple and you could tell he was mentally taken out of the game.”
Overall, the Gators shot 53 percent from the field and made the plays they needed to close out the game. The Tigers shot 43 percent from the field and despite a few good stretches they were never able to snatch a lead and pull away.
After finishing last season 0-6 in single digit games, this victory brought the Gators record in these close games to 7-2. With this Gator squad able to persevere in these type of games, come March they should be prepared for whatever is thrown at them.
Up next for the Gators will be yet another trip to the state of Alabama as they face off against the Crimson Tide (8-9, 2-2). The Tide fell Saturday 68-47 to the Missouri Tigers and Prather knows the Gators will be facing a tough team.
“We understand we’ll have to come out from the first second and play as hard as we can.”
The Gators now get five days of rest before traveling to Tuscaloosa on Thursday and will look to get completely healthy as they step into the heart of their SEC schedule.
For Post-game audio from Saturday’s game click on the links below.