Gainesville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Patric Young hit two critical free throws that snapped a tie game with 19.4 seconds left, and No. 2 Florida survived a major scare from a gritty Auburn team to come through with a 71-66 victory at the O'Connell Center.
The Gators (24-2, 13-0 SEC) set a program record with their 18th consecutive win and 30th straight on their home court, but it was anything but easy. The SEC front-runners trailed 38-30 at halftime and 65-63 with two minutes left prior to putting together a game-ending 8-1 run.
Young led the way by netting all 17 of his points in the second half and going 7-of-9 from the charity stripe. Casey Prather added 16 points and nine rebounds, with Scottie Wilbekin chipping in 15 points for Florida.
Auburn (12-12, 4-9) hung with the Gators until the final moments by knocking down 10-of-19 shots from 3-point range, but faltered down the stretch to negate the upset bid.
Tahj Shamsid-Deen made five treys while matching a career-high with 17 points, with Chris Denson and KT Harrell finishing with 15 and 14, respectively.
"I thought Auburn outplayed us, saying it like it us," Gators head coach Billy Donovan remarked. "We did not do a very good job defensively. Give Auburn credit, because they really shot the ball extremely well."
A nip-and-tuck contest throughout was deadlocked at 63-63 when Denson was fouled while driving to the basket with 2:06 remaining and calmly made both foul shots to send Auburn ahead. Both teams then failed to score on their following possessions before Michael Frazier put the Gators back in front with a clutch 3-pointer with 40.5 seconds to go.
Denson again drew a foul on the Tigers' next trip, but missed his second try and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum inexplicably fouled Young on the rebound with the score knotted at 66-66.
The 57 percent free throw shooter got both attempts to go down, and Auburn committed another mental error when Harrell didn't turn back to catch Allen Payne's inbounds pass and the ball sailed out of bounds with 18.6 seconds on the clock.
Wilbekin was promptly fouled and made both shots to enable Florida to escape victorious. The Gators finished 23-of-28 from the foul line.
"You've got to give Florida credit. They're a championship team," said Auburn head coach Tony Barbee. "They don't beat themselves. We beat ourselves in those waning moments. They didn't beat themselves."
Auburn opened up a 48-43 lead with 13 minutes left behind a 7-2 push, but the Gators responded with an 11-3 surge to regain the upper hand. Will Yeguete followed a 3-point play from Young with two free throws that gave the hosts a 52-51 edge that was extended to three with 8:59 remaining after Wilbekin subsequently sank a runner off a Prather steal.
The lead would change hands six more times the rest of the way, with neither side up by more than three points until Florida pulled away in the final seconds.
Auburn built its 38-30 halftime advantage -- the Gators' largest deficit of the season at the break -- on the strength of outstanding perimeter shooting, particularly from Shamsid-Deen. The freshman point guard buried 4-of-6 attempts from beyond the arc during a 14-point period, and the Tigers made eight straight buckets during a six-minute stretch that gained them the upper hand.
Shamsid-Deen canned two of those treys during a 12-0 run that put Auburn up by a 27-18 count with under six minutes to go in the half. Wilbekin countered by sinking threes on consecutive possessions to ignite a 9-2 surge from Florida, but the Tigers drained three more triples to close out the frame on a 9-3 burst.
"Coming into the half we were not there [mentally] like I thought we needed to be," said Donovan.
The Gators began the second half with a vengeance, however, netting 11 of the stanza's first 14 points to draw even. Back-to-back run-out slams by Young and Prather cut the margin to 41-39 before Young converted a reverse layup that tied the score with 16 1/2 minutes left.