By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Forward Allen Payne really doesn't want to hear encouraging words about Auburn playing close games anymore, not after losing another tough one in SEC play, not after being within three in the final minute before falling to No. 7 Florida 68-61 Saturday in Auburn Arena.
Auburn has lost to two SEC teams when they were ranked, falling by 2 and 7, lost another SEC game by 3 and lost another by 11 after being within 5 with 2 ½ minutes to play.
"People are going to tell us, 'You almost had them. You played really hard and we're proud of you.' We can't be satisfied with that," Payne said. "We weren't before. We really can't be now. We're desperate for a win right now. We battled, but at this point, it's not good enough just to do that. We've got to start pulling these close games out."
Auburn had a chance to tie with a minute to play, but a 3-pointer slid over the top of the basket. The Tigers missed their final five shots.
Auburn fell to 8-7 overall and a frustrating 0-4 in the SEC. Florida improved to 15-2 overall and 4-0 in the league.
"We had the toughest four games in the SEC," said guard Chris Denson. But, he said, there's still more fight in the team this year than last year.
"I don't think last year our mentality would have been the same in these games. There's nothing we can do about these past four games, so we're just looking ahead, looking forward to Wednesday at Mississippi State."
It'll be another tough week for Auburn, which plays at Mississippi State and then at Arkansas on Saturday.
Against Florida, Denson said. "it all comes down to winning plays, and we didn't make that winning play when we were down three."
The Tigers, down 13 in the first half, played Florida tight the rest of the way, even taking the lead before the half was done. The Gators' biggest second-half lead came at the end.
"There's no such thing as a moral victory," said coach Tony Barbee.
"Losing is not our destiny. The breakthrough is coming. This team believes it. I believe it."
"We're not accepting losing."
Denson and KT Harrell led Auburn, as usual. Denson scored 21. Harrell had 18. Florida leading scorer Casey Prather, back from an injury, led the Gators with 21.
Florida coach Billy Donovan said Barbee "does a great job in terms of where Denson and Harrell are going to get their shots from. Those players are smart."
Steady play and 3-point shooting led Auburn back from a slow start. Auburn hit all five of its 3-point attempts in the first half to offset hitting only four of 15 2-point tries.
"Give them credit," Donovan said, "because they gave themselves every opportunity."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer on AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine