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Monday, May 27, 2024

Florida falls to Auburn in SEC Championship

Sophomore center Micah Handlogten was stretchered off the court two minutes into the game with a left leg injury

Sophomore center Micah Handlogten dunks the ball in the Gators' 93-73 win against the Loyola Greyhounds on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.
Sophomore center Micah Handlogten dunks the ball in the Gators' 93-73 win against the Loyola Greyhounds on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023.

For the first time since 2014, Florida men’s basketball was playing for an SEC Title. And despite a crowd filled with mostly Auburn fans in Nashville Sunday afternoon, the Gators were amped to play for a conference championship.

However, just two minutes into the contest, the energy was sucked out of the building.  Sophomore center Micah Handlogten, UF’s rebounding leader, went in for a defensive rebound. When he landed, his left leg turned the wrong way, and he quickly fell to the floor in pain.

It was ugly. Ugly enough for a stretcher to be brought out to carry Handlogten off the court. After Florida players watched their teammate exit just two minutes into the game with tears in their eyes and pain in their hearts, they were unable to regroup and refocus to play their best 40 minutes despite cutting the lead to one in the second half.

Florida (24-11) was taken down by the Auburn Tigers (27-7) 86-67 in the SEC Championship game in Nashville, Sunday. 

It was visible that the injury to Handlogten took a toll on Florida emotionally. Even Auburn players were stunned to see the 7-foot-1 center exit the arena.

And with Handlogten’s absence, the Gators' execution struggled in the early going. The Tigers broke out to an early 21-11 lead at the 8:51 mark of the first half and seemingly had complete control of the game.

Florida took seven 3-pointers in the first half and failed to make a single one. The star-studded UF backcourt of junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. and graduate student guard Zyon Pullin combined to shoot 1-for-10 with nine points in the half.

The Tigers’ defense was relentless on Sunday and did an impressive job defending both the perimeter and the paint. Auburn held the Gators to a 1-for-13 3-point shooting performance from deep and facilitated several scoring droughts for Todd Golden’s squad.

Though, Florida showed signs of fight throughout. The Gators cut the Auburn lead to just one point at 45-44 with 17 minutes left on the clock in a game the Tigers never trailed in from the tip. This was as close as Golden’s team would get to completing a miraculous comeback.

It was all Auburn down the stretch, putting together a barrage of 3-pointers in the second half that gave them breathing room and erupted the Tigers fanbase.

Auburn was efficient offensively from start to finish. AU shot 51% from the field as a team and buried six 3-pointers, which all seemed to come at daggering times for the Gators.

First-team All-SEC forward Johnni Broome was sensational for the Tigers. The junior had a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds and made his presence felt in the paint defensively with three blocks.

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None of the starters for Florida played their best game of the season by any stretch. However, on a more positive note, the Gators received excellent play from freshman forward Thomas Haugh off the bench whom UF will rely on heavily throughout its NCAA Tournament run following the loss of Handlogten. He scored 11 points and recorded four rebounds.

Pullin finished with a team-high 15 points for the Gators and Clayton Jr. followed his lead with 13. 

Florida will now wait to hear its name called during the Selection Sunday broadcast to find out who its first-round opponent will be in the NCAA Tournament. They play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament either Thursday or Friday. 

Contact Max at Follow him on X @Max_Tuckr1.

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Max Tucker

Max Tucker is a junior transfer student at UF. After obtaining his A.A. in Journalism from Santa Fe College in 2023, he chose further his education at Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. Max is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Journalism with a specialization in sports and media. He enjoys golfing and going to the beach with his friends in his free time.

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