The Nell Fortner era at Auburn came to an end Thursday.
Todd Van Emst picture.
A week after Fortner announced this season would be her last, Auburn was bounced out of the SEC Tournament with a 70-60 loss to Florida in the first round. The Tigers finished the season 13-17.
“Overall I’m most proud of everything that Auburn has meant to me and helped me accomplish,” Fortner said. “I think it just came to me in my life at the right time and hopefully I came into Auburn’s life at the right time. I’ll forever be an Auburn Tiger.”
Fortner finished her career on The Plains with a 145-106 record in her eight seasons.
Auburn freshman Hasina Muhammad scored a career-high 20 points to lead all scorers. She also tallied career highs of nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Junior Blanche Alverson added 16 points along with seven rebounds while sophomore Tyrese Tanner added 10 points.
“I thought this team played extremely hard today and did everything they could to give us a chance to win,” Fortner said. “I’m just so proud of their effort. Their determination down the stretch, I really thought we had a shot all the way until about 28 seconds.”
Florida led by as many as 18 points in the second half, but Muhammad, who scored all 20 of her points in the second half, stepped up with five straight points to cut the lead to eight with 2:46 left to play.
Auburn and Florida traded baskets with the Tigers able to get no closer than eight points. The Gators went 9-of-11 from the free throw line in the final two minutes to maintain their lead and hold on for the 70-60 win.
In the first half, Auburn and Florida stayed close for the first 11 minutes as the Tigers trailed by two, 15-13, with 8:42 left. The Gators then went on a 10-0 run over the next five minutes, extending their lead into double figures.
Florida held the lead in double figures until Tanner drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer right before halftime, cutting the Gator lead to nine, 34-25, at the break. Auburn used an 8-2 run over the final 1:23.
Florida went on a 10-0 run in the first half that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Helped Gators lead by as many as 15 late in the first half, but Auburn cut it to nine by closing on an 8-2 run.
Auburn out-rebounded Florida 25-24 in the second half, including 16 offensive rebounds that turned into 11 second-chance points. The Gators finished with the rebounding edge for the game, 48-41. Florida was also able to capitalize on Auburn turnovers, scoring 20 points on just 13 Tiger turnovers.
Florida was led by Jordan Jones with 17 points while Jennifer George tallied a double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Lanita Bartley added 13 points while Azania Stewart made four Gators in double figures with 10.
The game was also the last for Auburn’s three seniors: Chantel Hilliard, Morgan Jennings and Parrisha Simmons. Simmons started and pulled down six rebounds in her final game as a Tiger while Hilliard came off the bench for five boards and two points. Jennings came off the bench as well, scoring four points with two rebounds and a team-high three steals.
The Gators (19-11) will take on regular-season champion Kentucky at 12 p.m., Friday in the second round.