Florida center Micah Handlogten stretchered off court early at the SEC final with broken left leg

Florida center Micah Handlogten (3) reacts on the bench after a Gator's basket late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia at the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Florida center Micah Handlogten (3) reacts on the bench after a Gator’s basket late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia at the Southeastern Conference tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Florida center Micah Handlogten broke his lower left leg in the opening minutes of the Southeastern Conference Tournament final Sunday and was taken off the court on a stretcher to a hospital.

Coach Todd Golden, who knelt over his player while Handlogten laid on the court, said he felt for the young center after the Gators lost 86-67 to No. 12 Auburn.

“You just hate to see it for him because he does everything the right way and works hard,” said Golden as he fought to control his emotions postgame. “That’s a super fluky injury you know that you don’t see very often in this game. Playing a big-time game like this, to go out that way, I just feel for him.”

Golden also thanked the medical staff from Florida, Auburn and the SEC for the quick response treating Handlogten., who was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Danielle Handlogten posted on social media later Sunday that her son was “out of surgery and is expected to have a full recovery,” and sent thanks “for the love and support of the Herd family.”

Handlogten had two rebounds in two minutes and was trying to come down with a third when he landed awkwardly on his left foot. He immediately went down in pain and rolled onto his side, putting his hands to his face.

The sound of bone apparently breaking could be heard on TV with blood immediately visible on the back of his calf.

Play continued as Aden Holloway took a pass and finished a layup on the other end for No. 12 Auburn. Play then stopped as trainers rushed out to tend to Handlogten, and everyone inside Bridgestone Arena went silent.

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl noted players from both teams returned to their benches and prayed. The Tigers’ pastor had tears in his eyes because he came to Auburn from Marshall and knew both Handlogten and his family.

“That’s the SEC,” Pearl said.

Handlogten’s parents were brought to the court from their seats in the stands. His mother, Danielle, wearing his No. 3 jersey, kneeled near his head as her son was treated on the court with his father, Ben, close by.

They stood together as Handlogten’s leg was placed inside an air cast before he was placed on a backboard, then lifted onto a stretcher. Teammates came over to him as Handlogten was taken off the court. Fellow sophomore Riley Kugel could be seen crying on the Florida bench.

Golden tried to use halftime to help his Gators refocus as they trailed 38-30.

The 7-foot-1 Handlogten ranked 11th nationally, averaging 2.3 shots blocked per game at Marshall where he was the Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year. He transferred to Florida, and the native of Huntersville, North Carolina, started 22 of 33 games including Sunday’s tournament final.

Handlogten came into this game ranked fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. Forward Tyrese Samuel said Handlogten is so valuable to the Gators and they tried to focus with a SEC title on the line.

“Losing him really kind of affected us,” Samuel said. ”We’re going to go out there next week and keep on playing for him.”

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball

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