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Calathes leads Florida past Auburn 68-65

AUBURN — The Florida Gators didn’t start making 3-pointers until they had to.

Nick Calathes had 17 points and made three free throws in the final seconds and the Gators finally found their outside shot after losing the lead in a 68-65 win over Auburn on Wednesday night, the 300th career victory for Billy Donovan as Florida’s coach.

Calathes also had nine rebounds and five assists for Florida (15-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), which has won nine straight games. He made 3 of 4 free throws in the final 19 seconds to overcome a late Auburn surge.

“I thought they made a huge comeback at the end,” Calathes said. “They have a lot of seniors and juniors on their team, so they weren’t going to let us get a win like that. I thought they made a great comeback, but I thought we persevered. We got the win and that was huge for us.”

Alex Tyus added 14 points and 12 boards and Kenny Kadji scored 11 points for the Gators. Florida got four of its five 3-pointers in the final 8 minutes after Auburn (10-6, 0-2) grabbed its first lead.

Erving Walker hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Gators the lead for good and set up another with a dish to Walter Hodge in the final 4:12. It was only Florida’s second game at an opponent’s arena this season.

“We answered a couple of times,” Donovan said. “When you’re playing on the road, you’ve got to find a way to answer when the crowd gets into the game.”

DeWayne Reed hit two 3-pointers in the final 5 seconds for Auburn to make it close.

Rasheem Barrett led the Tigers with 15 points, including nine in a row during a stretch that gave them their first lead midway through the second half. They couldn’t keep it up.

“That’s a real bad feeling,” Barrett said. “The worst feeling is that you gave it away. We had many opportunities. They just played a better game of basketball than us. On our mistakes they countered and made baskets. We didn’t. We had too many turnovers and (missed) free throws.”

Korvotney Barber had 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting for Auburn. Reed finished with 13 points while Lucas Hargrove scored 11, all in the first half. But the Tigers made just 5 of 27 3-pointers and 10 of 21 free throws.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo gave his team a backhanded compliment regarding those statistics.

“Our shooting was so bad it was amazing we were even in the game,” Lebo said. “I commend our team for being in the game for as poorly as we shot the ball.”

The Gators won the rebounding battle 46-36 after getting more than doubled up on the boards by Mississippi in their SEC opener.

Florida has won the last 10 meetings and salvaged this one despite going cold for a long stretch starting late in the first half. The Gators, who had an uncharacteristic 11 assists and 17 turnovers, managed just three field goals in a span of more than 15 minutes after building a 10-point lead.

The Tigers finally took advantage by scoring seven straight points and tying the game at 48 on Barrett’s two free throws with 9:34 left. Barrett gave Auburn its first lead with a drive to the basket 2 minutes later, but Calathes hit a 3-pointer to snap a string of seven straight missed shots by Florida.

Quantez Robertson missed the front end of two one-and-one free throw situations in the final minutes for Auburn, which ranks last in the SEC in free throw shooting. Robertson missed all six tries from the line.

“I thought two things were the difference in the game and I thought either team could have won,” Donovan said. “The first key was that we happened to make a stretch of about of three of four threes there late in the second half.

“I thought the other difference was they had a tough time shooting from the free throw line. We were fortunate to come in here and get a win.”