GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — 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 remaining. Chris Chiozza hit Hudson with a bounce pass on a back-door cut. Hudson got fouled making the layup and 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 charity stripe.
It was Florida’s 11th consecutive win in the series and a huge boost to the team’s 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 boards.
Auburn’s loss came just a few hours after photos surfaced on social media sites of coach Bruce Pearl lounging by a hotel poolin 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, including 6 for 10 from behind the arc. 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.
Auburn: The Tigers had scored at least 75 points in 10 straight games, but fell well short at Florida. They shot the ball well enough, hitting 44.6 percent, but 16 turnovers and allowing 13 treys proved to be a bad combination.
“Game plan: Don’t turn it over and don’t let them beat you from 3,” Pearl said. “Pretty simple.”
Florida: The Gators needed the victory, especially after giving up a 14-point lead in the second half. Losing this one would have been the third time in Florida’s last four games that it squandered a double-digit lead after the break and lost.
Allen, Hayes and Stone were out of the starting lineup after showing up late for a video session Friday night.
Florida great Mike Miller was in the O’Connell Center for the first time in years and was recognized during a timeout in the first half. The 36-year-old Miller retired last year after 17 seasons in the NBA.
Auburn: Plays at Arkansas on Tuesday night.
Florida: Plays at Alabama on Tuesday night.
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