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Florida basketball edges Auburn behind clutch shooting and a lucky heave

GAINESVILLE — It was poetry.

It was the simplicity of a haiku, the elegance of a sonnet and the complexity of free verse at once. And like any brilliant piece of art, KeVaughn Allen's half-court heave moved those who experienced it beyond words. But instead of staying silent, they screamed. 

And screamed and screamed and screamed. 

Long after the Gators had left the court for halftime, they were still screaming about Allen's lucky break. About how, off an inbound pass from Chris Chiozza with under three seconds left to the break, he toed the boundary of the court, beat one defender and, like John Wayne drawing his pistol from his belt, heaved the ball from his hip.

"It looked like it was going wide left," Allen said, "but then, at the last second, it curved right." 

The ball landed about 75 feet away and splashed into the net like a missile from nowhere, nearly blowing up the O'Connell Center in the process. But as thrilling as the moment was, Florida is used to that sort of purple prose to start games. It's also used to tragedy to finish them. On Saturday, though, there was no hubris and heartbreak. Only electricity and elation. 

Led by Allen, who aside from his buzzer beater scored a game-leading 24 points, the Gators (18-11, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) snatched a 72-66 win from feisty No. 12 Auburn (24-5, 12-4 SEC) in a game that, staying on the theme of literature, climaxed in the final moments. And for the first time in three games, the climax went in Florida’s favor.

“We needed that one, didn’t we?” coach Mike White said.

Allen didn't start off like a man poised to make the shot of his life. He was 0-for-5 before his first bucket, but from there, he made five more shots in a row and finished 8-for-15.

He had help from Jalen Hudson, who added 19 points, and Dontay Bassett, who made his first start and contributed a career-high 12 points, six rebounds and a team-high two steals. White credited Bassett's performance to his team-first mentality, which is also how Bassett explained his emergence.

“We needed this win,” he said.

The Gators struggled to close games during the three-game losing streak they carried into Saturday. Each loss was by five points or fewer. Which is why, when a timeout was called with 15:38 left in the game, someone piped up in the huddle and urged the team to not let the game slip away.

“Guys,” White interrupted, “do not look at the clock. This is not about holding on.”

He wanted Florida to stay aggressive, and the Gators did. But Auburn still pushed, and with 3:55 to play, the Tigers claimed their first lead.

The game became a western shootout from there. The lead changed six times in those final minutes, with Allen contributing back-to-back threes to keep UF afloat. Then, with 50 seconds left, the unthinkable.

Florida center Kevarrius Hayes hustled around a defender and swiped a loose ball from the abyss, passing it toward a teammate with a two-point lead. The referees said he stepped out.

Replays showed that Hayes didn’t appear to step out, but the call stood anyway. Auburn tied the game on the ensuing possession, and the arena turned from an atmosphere of tension to one of rage.

That was quickly reversed by an and-one from Hudson, which gave the Gators their final lead and sent fans into a flailing noodle-arm frenzy.

“I felt like they were out there on the court with us,” Chiozza said of the especially energetic crowd.

White said he wants his team to enjoy the win. To use it as motivation with two regular-season contests left. But he also doesn’t want his players to dwell. He admits they haven’t handled winning well this season.

“I hope it makes us feel good for about an hour,” White said. “We play in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night.”

 

 

 

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