Florida guard KeVaughn Allen remained impossibly composed. Despite having just launched the ball 65 feet through the air to connect on a first-half buzzer beater, he wore his usual collected, serious expression.
The electric home crowd at the O’Connell Center did all the celebrating for their straight-faced hero, exploding into cheer as soon as the three-point prayer became a reality.
It doesn’t get any easier for Mike White and the Gators.
“We needed that one,” UF coach Mike White said. “It was a big momentum shot for us. Guys were fired up going into the locker room.”
Allen contributed a game-high 24 points off the bench and snagged the game-sealing rebound in the Gators men’s basketball team’s 72-66 win over the No. 12 Tigers on Saturday night.
Trailing Allen’s 24 points was Hudson, who posted 19 of his own. With fewer than thirty seconds remaining, an and-one layup from Hudson gave Florida a three-point lead it would never lose.
In the shadow of Allen and Hudsons’ scoring performances was guard Chris Chiozza, who contributed 12 assists, and forward Dontay Bassett, who secured five offensive rebounds.
“I know my team needed it,” Bassett said. “That’s what they look for me to do.”
For the first time this season, White elected to start two freshmen, opening play with guard Mike Okauru and Bassett on the floor. Bassett scored the game’s first basket with a strong two-handed slam off an assist from guard Jalen Hudson.
Florida (18-11, 9-7 SEC) continued its dominant start by powering its way to a 10-2 lead in just over three minutes of play. After posting their first 15 points, however, the Gators missed nine consecutive field goals, including an uncontested dunk from center Kevarrius Hayes that soared off the back iron.
With just over eight minutes left in the half, Auburn erased the deficit and tied the game at 15 apiece behind guard Mustapha Heron’s five points.
The next two Florida possessions saw a baseline three from Chiozza and Bassett’s second dunk of the night, putting the Gators back on top and restoring the building’s energy.
“It was on fire,” White said of Saturday night’s crowd. “It was a great college basketball environment.”
On the defensive end, Florida held Auburn (24-5, 12-4 SEC) to just 24 points in the first half. The Tigers’ leading scorer on the season – guard Bryce Brown – failed to score until early in the second frame. Auburn also turned the ball over 16 times, 13 of which came before halftime.
Heron, who ended the night with 22 points, earned the Tigers their first lead – a 57-56 advantage – after hitting a three pointer with 3:55 left in the game. Hudson immediately responded with a three-pointer of his own.
Auburn stole the lead twice more, but both were erased by three-pointers from Allen, the latter coming with under two minutes remaining in the game to put the Gators up 66-64.
The back-and-forth scoring ended with a series of free throws from Hudson and Allen in the final thirty seconds, securing UF’s much needed victory as it approaches the final week of the regular season.
“We played hard from the tip,” Hudson said. “And we put 40 minutes together tonight.”