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Florida boosts NCAA resume by beating No. 12 Auburn 72-66

By Associated Press
Published: February 24, 2018 Updated: February 25, 2018 at 12:06 AM
Florida guard KeVaughn Allen, shooting over Auburn forward Horace Spencer, scores 24 to bounce back from a scoreless game. [Associated Press]

GAINESVILLE — KeVaughn Allen finally got the message. It took a scoreless game and long chats with coach Mike White and two teammates to sink in.

Allen bounced back from his worst game in more than three years with 24 points, including a 60-footer before the halftime buzzer and two huge 3-pointers in the closing minutes as Florida beat No. 12 Auburn 72-66 on Saturday night.

Allen missed his first five shots against the Tigers before hitting six in a row.

"He's so capable of that," White said. "I'm going to tell him again, and I wish everyone in this room would tell him that. If any of our students are watching this, when you see KeVaughn on campus Monday, tell him to shoot the basketball."

Jalen Hudson added 19 points for the Gators, including a pivotal three-point play with 26.8 seconds left. Chris Chiozza hit Hudson with a bounce pass on a back-door cut. Hudson got fouled making the layup then sank the free throw to put Florida up for good, 69-66.

Auburn's Jared Harper and Bryce Brown missed off-balance 3-pointers in the final minute, and the Gators closed it out from the line.

Florida's 11th straight win in the series was a huge boost to its NCAA Tournament resume.

The Gators (18-11, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) had dropped three straight and six of eight in league play. They had been free-falling since early January, and a fourth loss in a row probably would have left the Gators needing help down the stretch to make the NCAAs.

The win over the Tigers (24-5, 12-4) could be enough to put Florida in the 68-team field for the second straight season.

"I hope it makes us feel good for about an hour," White said. "This current Gator team has not handled success very well. Obviously, we haven't been very consistent. … We've got to move on quickly."

Chiozza finished with eight points, five rebounds and 12 assists, none bigger than the pass to Hudson. Florida freshman Dontay Bassett added a career-high 12 points and six rebounds.

Auburn's loss came just a few hours after photos surfaced on social media sites of coach Bruce Pearl lounging by a hotel pool in Gainesville. It's common for coaches and players to relax on game day, especially with a late tip, but it surely wasn't the best look when the Tigers started the game flat.
Pearl said his parents and sister came up from South Florida, and they enjoyed the spring weather.

"I'm in Florida. That's what you're supposed to do," Pearl said.

Florida led 10-2 in the opening minutes and was up 33-24 at the break after Allen beat the halftime buzzer from long range.

"When I shot it, it looked like an air ball," Allen said. "But at the last second, it curved right and went in. I don't practice that at all. It's just luck."

Allen shot 8-of-15 and made 6 of 10 3-pointers. His big night came a few days after White and teammates Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes tried to reinforce the need for the junior guard to be more aggressive.

"It's a big confidence boost for me knowing that I've been struggling a little bit," Allen said. "I've just got to stay aggressive."

Mustapha Heron, who missed Auburn's previous game because of a stomach virus, led the Tigers with 22 points.