At this point, Gator fans probably remember Florida head coach Will Muschamp’s “overcome the adversity” rant to the point of replication.
Well, the Florida basketball team must’ve heard it too, because their 71-66 victory over a (now) 12-12 Auburn team Wednesday night took nothing less than every ounce of effort they had in their bodies. Florida has now won 18 straight games and could be the nation’s new number one team after top ranked Syracuse lost at home to Boston College.
The game started on a run — I know, you’re shocked, I’m sure. Auburn took a quick 5-0 lead off a Tahj Shamsid-Deen 3-pointer, and that was the beginning of a long night for the Florida defense. Shamsid-Deen came into the game averaging 9.4 points per game, shooting just a little over 30 percent from beyond the arc. But on this night, he would be the spark of outside shooting success that took Auburn’s chance at an upset down to the last seconds of the game.
At the 10:11 mark in the first half, Florida’s Casey Prather hit two free throws to give the Gators an 18-13 lead, but it was all downhill for the rest of the half from there. Auburn then went on a 12-0 run in the next four minutes of play led by two Shamsid-Deen 3-point shots.
Florida would battle back to make their deficit only two at 30-28 led by back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers from Wilbekin, DeVon Walker and then Wilbekin again. But the Tigers continued to play momentum crushers, and a few buckets later and with less than a minute left in the half–you guessed it–Shamsid-Deen drained another 3-pointer; his fourth of the half.
The Tigers took a 38-30 lead going into halftime, the largest lead any team has had on Florida in the O’Connell Center this season. Auburn was able to achieve that with numbers like 56 percent shooting, 66 percent shooting from 3-point range and 100 percent from the free throw line.
Inside the locker room, Wilbekin said UF head coach Billy Donovan challenged the team to step up to the opportunity to be great in the second half.
“Coach D challenged us at halftime. He said we were not at all striving for greatness. He asked us if we really believed we could strive for greatness. We wanted to prove to him we could,” Wilbekin said. “We wanted to prove after a half like that… the better team we could be in the second half.
The second half started quick the a Wilbekin 3-pointer, but on the next possession seconds later, Shamsid-Deen silenced the crowd with a three pointer of his own.
After the game Casey Prather talked about how Donovan called a quick timeout to tell Prather if he let Shamsid-Deen get off another 3-point shot, he’d pull Prather off him and out of the game all together. Prather stepped up to the challenge, and Shamsid-Deen didn’t score for the remainder of the game.
With just about 15 minutes left to play, Florida fans everywhere were silenced. Not because of anything Auburn did, but because UF sophomore Michael Frazier II lay on the ground grabbing his wrist in pain. It took Frazier 30 seconds or so to get up, but when he did, the crowd gave the young shooter a standing ovation. After the game Frazier talked about the injury.
“They said I might have sprained it, but there’s nothing official yet. He said if it doesn’t get better, we’ll get X-rays, but for now it’s all right,” Frazier said.
Frazier would remain in the game, and in hindsight, that was a great decision, because he was about to have a career defining moment just minutes later.
We fast forward to a score of 63-63, but not enough emphasis can be made on the blow-for-blow shots made by both teams. Chris Denson would get to the free throw line and would sink two which gave him 14 for the game–he ended with 15.
But as time wound down, and the Gators were looking for some sort of offense down two with less than a minute left, Prather drove to the lane, kicked it out to a wide open Frazier a couple feet past the 3-point line and Frazier would hit arguably the biggest shot of his collegiate career so far.
What happened next was almost too odd to explain.
Auburn’s Chris Denson would drive the lane and be fouled. He went to the line, and under a magnitude of roars from the Florida fans sank his first free throw–the game was now tied 66-66.
Here’s where it gets odd.
Denson then missed his second free throw, Patric Young corralled the rebound, and was immediately fouled by Auburn’s Dixon-Tatum as if they were still down in score. The Auburn bench all put their hands on their heads in confusion, but kept themselves composed knowing they sent a relatively poor free throw shooter to the line with the game in the balance.
Young walked up to the line in the double bonus, and as routinely as could be, sank the first free throw. The crowd roared, then became silent again, until all you could hear, was the net of Young sinking the second free throw; the crowd erupted in cheers.
After the game Wilbekin said there was never a doubt in his mind Young would make his shots.
“I mean, he’s definitely put the work in; I knew he was going to hit it and we were going to come down and get a stop,” Wilbekin said.
The next play would prove to be the dagger, and it was one no one could have guessed.
As Young made his second free throw, Auburn went to in-bound the ball, but no one came back to receive the pass. The in-bound pass was thrown to no one out of bounds. Florida basketball.
At that point, it was 68-66, it would end 71-66.
Through some bad defense, hot shooting by Auburn, injuries and at times bad luck, Florida found a way to win an ugly game it perhaps did not deserve to win.
Florida next plays at Ole Miss on Saturday.
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