AUBURN, Ala. — After teams scored with ease against Auburn in its first three SEC games, coach Tony Barbee made practice all about defense earlier this week.
“We didn’t do anything offensively and it probably shows, right?” he said.
The Tigers played scrappy, relentless defensive Thursday night but couldn’t overcome an historically abysmal offensive showing, falling 45-40 to Florida at the Auburn Arena.
Florida guards Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker shook off an ugly shooting night, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers in the final two minutes to help the Gators (14-4, 3-1 SEC) escape.
It was the fewest points Auburn (7-11) has scored since the advent of the shot clock in 1985.
The Tigers, who will likely be underdogs in their remaining 12 league games, fell to 0-4 in SEC play for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
“Our guys want to win, so it might be disheartening for them,” Barbee said. “But I’m happy with the way we fought. We lost that for a while.”
Auburn trailed by 20 or more points in the first half of its first three SEC games but led 24-23 at the break Thursday. The second half devolved into a one-upsmanship of offensive ineptitude, however.
Florida, which had its lowest point total in coach Billy Donovan’s 15 years, shot 28 percent from the field and made only 5 of 26 3-point attempts.
“I’ve never been a part of holding a team to 28 percent (shooting) and you lose,” Barbee said.
The Tigers didn’t do much better but got four straight points from Kenny Gabriel late in the game. The forward, who tied for game-high honors with 12, scored on a backdoor layup and a follow-up dunk on a fastbreak to give Auburn a 40-37 lead with 3:30 to play
But the offensively-challenged Tigers, who are last in the SEC in scoring, didn’t score the rest of the way, going 0-for-4 from the field and committing two turnovers.
Auburn shot 38 percent from the field (18-48), went 3-for-11 from 3-point range and was a dismal 1-for-8 from the free throw line.
“We’ve had our opportunities but we’ve got to be more competent on the offensive end of the floor,” Barbee said. “We’ve got to continue to play tough, hard-nosed, nasty, mean defense like we did tonight and give ourselves a chance.”
Another injured Auburn player made a surprising return. Forward Ty Armstrong played after missing the first 17 games following ACL surgery in August.
The 6-foot-9 forward played sparingly as a freshman, averaging 2.0 points and 1.6 rebounds in 30 games, but was expected to play a major role in Barbee’s first season. Wearing a bulky brace on his left knee, he finished with two points and three rebounds in eight minutes Thursday.
“He wanted to play and he begged me to play,” Barbee said.
Because he returned in the second half of the season, Armstrong is no longer eligible for a medical redshirt like guard Frankie Sullivan.
Chris Denson, a freshman guard from Shaw High in Columbus, made his first career start for Auburn after scoring 12 points Sunday at Mississippi State. He went scoreless but had four assists in 15 minutes Thursday.