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Cooper-less Auburn can’t keep up with Gators

Cooper-less Auburn can’t keep up with Gators

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Auburn's JT Thor (10) tries to keep the ball from Florida during Tuesday's game at Auburn Arena.

AUBURN --- The Auburn Tigers were short one point guard and short on points against Florida on Tuesday.

Auburn guard Sharife Cooper was sidelined with a left ankle injury, and the freshman phenom’s absence was detrimental. The Tigers failed to keep pace offensively in the opening minutes with the Gators and were unable to come close to closing the gap in a 74-57 loss.

The loss stands as the Tigers’ third consecutive loss, marking the third time this season Auburn has had at least three losses in a row.

“This team's been through a lot,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Obviously we struggled tonight, and Sunday we lost Sharife. He got hurt in practice and turned his ankle pretty good. You know, we'll see how the week progresses. Obviously, we never rush guys back. He's working to try and get back but just don't know.”

Auburn (11-13, 5-10 SEC) had little margin for error without Cooper on the floor, and the game’s opening minutes proved just how small that margin was.

The Tigers were predictably sloppy with Cooper on the bench, and the team had five turnovers and only three shot attempts — just one of which was successful — as Florida (12-6, 8-5 SEC) pulled out to an early 11-3 lead. The Gators’ early success was fueled primarily by Tre Mann, who contributed nine of the team’s first 11 points.

The Gators dominated the game’s first 13 minutes of action to build a 25-8 lead over the Tigers. During that time, Auburn worked in walk-on guards Lior Berman and Preston Cook in order to give Allen Flanigan — who mainly manned the point position in Cooper’s absence — and Jamal Johnson a chance to breathe.

The Tigers found their first semblance of a grove after trailing by 17. Jaylin Williams stepped up with a jumper then followed a Florida layup with a 3-pointer. The Gators’ Scottie Lewis answered with a 3 before Auburn added free throws by Johnson and Flanigan and a Dylan Cardwell dunk to try and close the gap.

The problem was what little momentum the Tigers mustered at that point was short-lived. Lewis delivered a pair of layups before Noah Locke drilled a 3-pointer, and though Williams managed a layup the Gators ended the half having scored 12 of the first half’s final 16 points.

Florida ended the opening half having doubling up the Tigers 44-22 on the scoreboard. The Gators shot an even 50 percent from the field, while the Tigers only hit seven of their 23 shot attempts and committed 13 turnovers in the game’s first 20 minutes.

The Tigers began the second half with five quick points — four of which came from JT Thor — as they tried to cut into the Gators’ double-digit lead. Auburn kept the pressure on Florida well into the game’s second half, and in the first seven minutes of action they forced six Gator turnovers.

“To our credit, we outplayed them in the second half. We only gave a Florida team 30 points. Played hard, flew around, played with great effort and energy,” Pearl said. “JT Thor, in my mind, obviously stands out with his ability to just get deflections, you know, and make plays.

“We're already probably a guard down just roster-wise, and then when you're two guards down, man, it's tough.”

Auburn got as close as 15 points, but the second-half heroics of Devan Cambridge were far from enough to undo the damage done.

Cambridge led Auburn with 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting from the field. Williams contributed 11 points, and Thor and Johnson each had 10.

Mann led the way for Florida with 19 points, 16 of which came in the first half. Lewis had 16, and Appleby had 11.

The Tigers return to the court Saturday at home against No. 25 Tennessee.

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