GAINESVILLE — In the fight for their NCAA Tournament lives, every game counts for the Gators these days, and in an interesting turn of events, Florida earned a win Thursday night aided by an aspect of its game it had struggled with lately.
Florida entered struggling from the free-throw line, but the Gators were 32-of-40 in their 78-70 win over Auburn at the O'Connell Center, going the final 8:24 without a field goal.
"We've got to win all our home games; we've got to win every game," junior forward Alex Tyus said. "I feel like there's a sense of urgency with this team, and hopefully we're going to keep getting better, and keep getting wins."
Florida (18-8, 7-4 SEC) pulled off the victory despite another poor offensive performance from guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. The two combined to go 2-of-13 from the field, 1-of-6 from 3-point range. Walker was 0-for-6 from the field but earned 14 points at the free-throw line.
"That has been a big focus for us, especially after practice lately, because we hadn't been shooting free throws well," Walker said. "So it was good to see some fall. I had some good looks with my shot, I just missed them."
Florida shot 44 percent from the field, but was just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. Coach Billy Donovan said the Gators weren't able to get in synch offensively down the stretch because of the constant trips to the line — the Gators were 18-of-24 from the line in the final 10:06.
In their two previous games, both losses, the Gators missed 13 free throws at South Carolina and 11 against Xavier.
The Tigers (12-14, 3-8) kept it close, despite going 3-of-16 on 3-pointers in the second half. DeWayne Reed, who had a game-high 22 points, hit two free throws that pulled Auburn to within 74-70 with 23 seconds left, but Auburn got no closer.
"I thought Jeff's (Lebo) bench gave him some great minutes," Donovan said of the Auburn coach.
While Auburn used 13 players, the Gators picked up some much-needed help from its bench from senior Dan Werner and freshman Erik Murphy. Murphy had seven points and three rebounds, while Werner sparked the Gators with a dunk at the 12:50 mark, had several key defensive plays at critical times, and finished with nine points and four rebounds. It was his strongest offensive night since Jan. 20. Junior Chandler Parsons led the Gators with 17 points and six rebounds.
"I personally was very, very happy for Dan," Donovan said. "I think the unfortunate part for Dan is people do not understand his value or what he brings to the team. They just do not see it, and it's unfortunate. … For me as a coach, with three (home) games remaining, it was great to see him really play with a lot of energy and fire, have some success out there, and I thought he really impacted the game.”