One would never mistake point guard Andrew Nembhard for Michael Jordan.
At the surface, the 6-foot-5 sophomore has very little in common with arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, other than the fact that they are roughly the same height and play the same sport.
But you can also add “played through the flu in a big game” to that list as well.
And while Nembhard’s flu game won’t go down in the annals of basketball history like MJ’s, he helped Florida beat No. 4 Auburn at home for its biggest win of the season.
The Gators outscored Auburn 41-24 in the second half to turn a close game into a 69-47 throttling. Nembhard had six points, five assists and five rebounds in nearly 26 minutes of playing time.
Freshman Omar Payne shot a perfect 9 for 9 from the field and posted his first career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
“I don’t know that anyone would have predicted him going nine for nine,” coach Mike White said. “Every day with him he just continues to improve, he hasn’t had a bad practice in a long, long time, that’s pretty rare for a freshman.”
Forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. also produced his eighth double-double with 11 points and 16 rebounds, tying a season high.
Saturday was the first time that the Gators (12-5, 4-1 SEC) beat an AP top-five opponent at home since December 2006. Auburn’s 47 points was also the fewest allowed by the Gators against a top-five team since 1968.
UF took advantage of the home crowd’s energy early. With the O’Dome buzzing, Florida tallied nine unanswered points in the first five minutes.
With Nembhard battling his sickness, it was ugly at times with the team’s youth having to take control of the offense in the first half. Three freshmen played double-digit minutes, with guard Ques Glover filling in for Nembhard for the last 7:37 of the half.
Despite shooting a respectable 44 percent, the Gators’ offense struggled to score points.
Florida seemingly invented new ways to turn the ball over as the half went on, accumulating 12 in 20 minutes. Auburn scored a point per Florida turnover in the half. The Gators also only earned two trips to the free-throw line, but still led 28-23 at halftime.
That was still a better offensive performance than what was happening at the other end of the floor. Auburn (15-2, 3-2 SEC) shot a miserable 20.7 percent from the field in the first half.
Nembhard was back in to start the second half, and the Gators outscored the Tigers 12-6 in the first five minutes to build a 40-29 lead.
“I thought Andrew set the tone the first possession of the second half with just getting downhill and making good decisions, that settled us in,” White said. “I think that our guys made more sound decisions … we simplified a little bit.”
Auburn’s offense couldn’t get anything going against a Florida defense that gave up at least 65 points in three of its last four games. Guard Samir Doughty and forward Isaac Okoro were averaging roughly 15 and 13 points per game coming into the game but combined for just 15 against the Gators.
After Doughty converted on a jumper to shrink the lead to six with under nine minutes to go, Florida went on a 20-4 run to cement the upset. That run included Blackshear Jr. and forward Keyontae Johnson combining for three three-pointers in 90 seconds to put the Gators up by 25.
Florida once again shot well in the half, converting on over 55 percent of their shots from the field. But it also limited its turnovers to only three in the second half.
The Tigers, who had averaged over 80 points per game, shot just 8 for 26 (30.8 percent) in the second half and 14 for 55 (25.5 percent) for the game.
“I guess it shows you that we’re pretty good, what we’re potentially capable of,” White said. “Simply put, it shows you when we’re capable of hitting on all cylinders, we can beat a top-10 team.”
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