AUBURN, Alabama — Bruce Pearl said earlier in the year, when his former assistant Todd Golden was hired as Florida’s head coach, that he would dread future matchups with the Gators. He knows first-hand how good a Golden coach is.
And the former Auburn assistant coach proved it in his SEC debut.
The No. 20 Tigers were in a dogfight all evening but prevailed thanks to a late defensive stop, winning their SEC opener over Florida, 61-58.
“The league is going to be a rock fight,” Pearl said postgame.
Here are Auburn Undercover’s immediate takeaways.
Auburn wins thriller in final seconds
A Zap Jasper steal led to a breakaway Allen Flanigan dunk, and the game was knotted at 54-all at the game’s final media timeout. Auburn then took advantage of a missed free throw by the Gators guard Trey Bonhamas Wendell Green Jr. pushed the ball up the floor and dumped it off Johnny Broomewho hammered a two-handed dunk over Colin Castleton to give the Tigers the lead.
Broome scored again on a great feed from KD Johnson with just over a minute left, handing a 59-58 lead back to Auburn.
Auburn had a chance to pad the lead, but a Jaylin Williams pass was intercepted by Alex Fudge. Golden called timeout, and the Gators drew up a play with 18 seconds left, trailing by 1.
Castleton lost the ball, though, on a drive, and Chris Moore pushed it ahead to Green Jr. for a score, securing the win.
“It was crazy,” Green Jr. said. said. “We had a turnover right before. We were up one. We had a good play but just a turnover, unfortunate. And we knew we just had to get a stop. That was the main thing and C-Mo (Moore) — he’s been playing great all year defensively, offensively — he got a steal. I’d seen him get it and I just wanted to go as fast as I could and get a layup.”
Auburn wins its SEC opener over Florida. The finish: pic.twitter.com/2MyKDLdO58
— Nathan King (@NathanKing247) December 29, 2022
Green Jr.’s impact
As strong as backup point guard and freshman Tre Donaldson as been of late, the Tigers were buoyed at key points by their floor general.
Green Jr. hit a 3-pointer to end the first half, then had seven of Auburn’s first nine points to open the second half, including two separate trips to the free-throw line when he was fouled on 3-point attempts.
“They told me to just turn it up a notch so we could get back going,” Green Jr. said. “And that’s what I tried to do to start the second half off.”
The junior certainly looks healthy after his ankle injury a few games ago, dropping 14 points and grabbing five rebounds Wednesday night.
“Wendell’s just a winner,” Pearl said. “Wendell’s just a winner, and a tough kid.”
Tigers skid to the end of the first half
Florida went 8:13 of game time without making a basket – almost half of the entire opening half. Surely Auburn led at halftime, then?
Instead, Auburn’s double-digit turnovers in the first half compounded on inconsistent offense. The Tigers led for the majority of the first half, but the basket that broke Florida’s long dry spell gave the Gators a 22-20 lead. Florida then extended that into a quick 8-0 run, as Neville Arena groaned in frustration.
Green Jr. hit a 3-ball as time expired in the first half, but Auburn still missed 11 of its final 13 shots of the half, and had six turnovers in the final seven minutes.
Auburn shored up its turnover problems in the second half, though, with only four after halftime.
“We’ve got to do a better job taking care of the ball,” Pearl said. “We’re gonna have to be a team that just has to guard people, because, unfortunately, offense has been difficult all year. So we’re gonna keep working on it. But I thought we got some shots inside that we need to make.”
Broome bests Castleton
After averaging 21.5 points across two meetings against Auburn last season, Castleton was held in check Wednesday night.
The veteran Florida big man had eight rebounds but shot 1-for-6 from the floor, with 6 points.
Auburn kept him from catching the ball close to the basket, and he had to mostly drive to the hoop in order to get to his spots. Dylan Cardwell also blocked him on a drive in the first half. The fifth-year senior’s first basket did not come until a pick-and-roll lob on Florida’s first possession of the second half.
It burned Auburn a couple of times because of Castleton’s vision, but the Tigers often deployed a double team on the Gators’ first team All-SEC center.
Broome won the matchup, pouring in 14 points and grabbing 11 boards for his second double-double of the season — and he led Auburn in assists with four. Broome shot 6-of-13 from the floor, including two big baskets in the final minutes, and Auburn appeared to miss him offensively in the first half when he was hit with his second foul more than six minutes before the break.
“You know, coming into the game, coming into Auburn, those are one of the games you had circled on the calendar,” Broome said. “Good matchup. He’s a good player. But the main goal of the game plan was to stop him. And as you can see, 1-for-6. Not letting him get the ball was pretty big too. When he gets the ball , making his shot tough, and that’s what we did tonight.”
Broome’s effectiveness on the glass helped Auburn win the rebounding battle, 40-28, leading to 12 second-chance points for the Tigers.
“Johnny knows how to act and feel and play like the best player on the floor,” Pearl said. “Because when he was at Morehead State, he did that for a couple of years. He knows how to do that every night. He knows how to prepare that way, act that way, play that way. Now he’s translating it to the SEC level, really, in the last few games. Very excited about that. Look, Castleton is one of the best offensive centers in the league. He was first team all-conference. Johnny and Dylan won the matchup. Huge.”
An ’emotional’ reunion for Pearl
Wednesday marked the first head-coaching matchup for Pearl against Golden, who was an assistant for him with the Tigers from 2014-16.
Golden left Auburn to become an assistant at San Francisco, and was eventually named the head coach there in 2019. He took the Dons to the NCAA tournament last season.
“Going up against Todd was very emotional for me,” Pearl said. “I was emotional seeing him before the game. I got emotional on the radio. I love Todd like a son. He came out here, put his faith in me and his trust in me. He was engaged to be married and got married the first summer he was here. I saw him as a newlywed, with his beautiful bride. He had his first child here. He bought his first home here. I know his parents and his family. And he’s Steven (Pearl) is his best friend , for life. So I root for him.”
*** HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Get 50% off Auburn Undercover subscription (with FREE Paramount+) ***
*** Subscribe to Auburn Undercover for the latest news and intel, podcasts, recruiting coverage and more***
*** Get Auburn news straight to your inbox with the Auburn Undercover newsletter ***