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January 18, 2014

Close isn't enough


AUBURN | KT Harrell rose above Florida guard Casey Prather with 1:04 remaining Saturday for a three-point shot that would have tied the game.

This was no ordinary opponent. The Gators, 14-2 and ranked No. 7, were supposed to win this game easily. Yet the home team played enough defense and allowed Harrell and fellow guard Chris Denson to do their thing on the offensive end.

Harrell's shot was to be the defining moment. And it was.

The shot was off the mark and cleared the way for Florida to escape with a 68-61 win. Auburn coach Tony Barbee could have spent time praising his team's effort afterward, but he didn't.

"There's no such thing as a moral victory," he said.

Florida was the second top-25 team Auburn has played on its home court this season and guard Chris Denson said Auburn was "anxious" to be playing the No. 7 Gators (15-2, 4-0).

It showed.

The Tigers came out and sank three three-pointers to keep the game close at first. However, they did not connect on a single 2-point attempt during the game's first 13 minutes.

That dismal shooting allowed Florida to mount a 16-3 run during the first half, though Auburn soon began showing the toughness Barbee craves. The Tigers stormed back via a 14-0 run of its own to cut Florida's lead to one point at halftime.

Auburn managed to keep things close during most of the second half, but fouls and poor defense in the paint allowed Florida to maintain its advantage.

"Give Florida credit," Barbee said. "They made plays when they had to. It was our inability to make that play."

Still, Auburn had its chances.

Tahj Shamsid-Deen sank a jumper with 1:44 left in the game to make it 62-61 for Florida. Florida's Scottie Wilbekin responded with a field goal of his own to make it 64-61, but it wasn't over until Harrell missed his final three-point attempt and the Tigers were forced to foul Wilbekin.

Barbee said his team has been working on poise, focus and confidence, but said that wasn't apparent in the most crucial moments of the game. The team remains adamant that its first conference win is coming.

"Losing is not our destiny," Barbee said. "The breakthrough is coming."

Florida scored 32 points in the paint and 28 points off the bench, including 21 from Prather.

The SEC's top two scorers, Denson and Harrell, put up 21 and 18 points respectively against what Denson called "one of the best defenses" he's ever seen.

Auburn (8-7, 0-4) resumes play Wednesday at Mississippi State.

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