If losing to instate rival Alabama on Wednesday was painful for previously undefeated Auburn, then Saturday’s loss was Payne-full.
The Florida Gators bested No.4 Auburn 69-47 behind solid defense and breakthrough performance from freshman Omar Payne. The freshman was 9-of-9 from the field for a career-high 19 points and 11 rebounds — also his first career double-double. Payne came into the game averaging just 4.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game but was everything the Gators’ needed on Saturday.
Payne’s presence on the glass helped Florida tremendously. Auburn came into Saturday’s game averaging 42.1 rebounds a game — top in the SEC. The Gators out-rebounded Auburn 44-29 with 27 of those 44 coming from Payne and Kerry Blackshear.
“He helped us. He was battling the big fella down there, so I had to tried to help him,” Kerry Blackshear said after the game. “Our guards rebounded down elite today, helping us getting second opportunities when we had a chance on the other end, as well.”
The first half watched Auburn woefully shoot from the field but get to the line. Auburn missed 15 of its first 16 shots but was 10-10 from the free throw line. Florida’s uncharacteristically bad ball-security helped keep the Tigers in the game. Florida turned the ball over 12 times in the first half alone. The second half was a different story.
“It was the message coming out of halftime,” guard Andrew Nembhard said when asked about turnovers in the first half. “”I think we just got more comfortable, played with more confidence, slowed it down.”
The Gators did just that in the second half. They cut their turnovers down from 12 to just 3 in the second half. They outscored Auburn 41-24 and dominated inside. Florida bested Auburn in the paint, scoring 34 points down low to the Tigers’ 18. They also had 19-second chance points, thanks in part to Payne’s seven offensive rebounds, to just 9 for the Tigers.
Florida brought out its black jerseys and implored fans to wear black to the game. It created a great environment at the O-Dome and one that clearly affected the Tigers on the road. Auburn started the game just 1-16 from the floor.
This is Florida’s best win of the season. Auburn had a bad week going 0-2, but it’s still a win over an Associate Press Top-5 team and that will look good on Florida’s résumé in March.
The Gators will travel to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to play LSU with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m.