AUBURN, Ala. (AP)K.D. Johnson scored 23 points and No. 9 Auburn extended its winning streak to 11 with a 85-73 victory over Florida on Saturday night.
Auburn held off a big second-half surge by Florida (9-5, 0-2 Southeastern Conference), which was led by Colin Castleton’s 22 points and 10 rebounds. Anthony Duruji scored 14 for the Gators, while Myreon Jones added 13.
Jaylin Williams netted a season-high 14 points for the Tigers (14-1, 3-0), and Wendell Green Jr. added 13 for an Auburn team that outscored Florida 35-9 in bench points. Jabari Smith had 13 points and five rebounds.
Florida trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half but cut Auburn’s lead to one on a 3-pointer by Duruji with 8:37 left. Auburn answered with a quick pull-up 3-pointer by Smith. Johnson and Green then hit step-back 3-pointers of their own to extend the Tigers’ lead to double-digits again.
”I thought we were a little fatigued tonight,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. ”I thought, for the first time, the grind of the season may have been a factor. … Then obviously, you know, those guys – Wendell, K.D. and Jabari – rise up and make shots.”
Auburn shot 53.6% from the field and 44.4% from 3-point range. Florida hit just 27.3% of its 3-pointers and missed 13 of its final 17 shots.
”Sometimes, it’s a make-or-miss game,” Florida coach Mike White said. ”I hate to give the cop-out, but they shot it well. We’ve got to shoot it better.”
JOHNSON BOUNCES BACK
Entering Saturday, Johnson had scored in double figures just once in the last five games and was held to 2 points against South Carolina earlier in the week.
But Johnson drilled a deep 3-pointer early in the first half – the first of three on just four attempts. The Georgia transfer guard also finished the game with zero turnovers for the first time in more than a month.
”My confidence was high the whole game,” Johnson said. ”After I hit a couple of 3s, I started feeling it.”
BIG MAN BATTLE
The matchup was a showdown between Auburn’s Walker Kessler and Florida’s Castleton, two of the top centers in the SEC this season.
While Florida came up short on the scoreboard, Castleton posted the second 20-point, 10-rebound game of his career. Kessler had six points, eight rebounds and three blocks but fouled out for the first time this season.
”He was terrific,” White said of Castleton, who was a game-time decision after injuring his shoulder earlier this week. ”He was poised. He played within himself. He missed a couple, and his confidence level didn’t waver. He demanded it.”
Florida: The Gators drew two tough matchups – No. 15 Alabama and No. 9 Auburn – to open SEC play this week. Coach Mike White’s team had strong stretches in both losses, but it will need to play more consistently across two halves to bounce back from an 0-2 start in the league.
”We made simple plays in the second half,” Duruji said. ”We didn’t turn the ball over that much and got some open shots. We’ve got to continue to grow and get better and embrace the process.”
Auburn: The Tigers’ greatest strength this season is its depth, and that was on full display Saturday. With three starters sitting significant portions of the second half due to foul trouble, Auburn was able to hold off a second-half surge by the Gators with their reserves.
”I’ve never played with a team like this, where the bench players can play over the starters any night,” Johnson said.
Florida: Hosts LSU on Wednesday.
Auburn: Visits rival Alabama on Tuesday.
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