Florida found itself in another uncomfortable position down the stretch on Wednesday night against James Madison.
Up by just five points with 7:31 left to play, the reeling Gators could have collapsed like they did in their loss over the weekend against Clemson in the Orange Bowl Classic.
Instead, Florida found a way to make baskets and get defensive stops late in an eventual 72-63 win over James Madison before 8,203 at the O’Connell Center.
Senior point guard Chris Chiozza led the Gators (7-4) with 19 points and 7 assists, while junior guard KeVaughn Allen added 17 points. Junior guard Jalen Hudson had 10 points in 23 minutes off the bench. Florida snapped a two-game home losing streak and won for just the second time in its last six games against a team it was favored to beat by 23 points. But since returning from the PK Tournament in Portland, every game has been a struggle for the Gators.
“It feels good to get the win,” Chiozza said. “You never want to underestimate people. Any team can come in on any given night and have a chance.”
After a Ramone Snowden 3-pointer cut UF’s lead to 57-52 with 7:31 left, the Gators held James Madison to 1-of-9 shooting from the field the remainder of the game. Florida was able to put the game away with a 9-0 run that included a 3-pointer from Hudson and inside basket by Hudson off a Chiozza assist that extended UF’s lead to 66-52 with 5:26 left.
The Gators held James Madison to 37.5 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from 3-point range.
“We sat in the stance and guarded the basketball at another level, at a level that this group hadn’t shown to this point,” White said. “It started the last couple of days in practice. I feel like we really worked and defended at a high level. And I thought it carried over. That’s as hard as this team has played. I was pleased with our effort tonight, I thought we got a little bit better.”
Florida took four charges and scored 23 points off 18 James Madison turnovers.
“I don’t think we had that many charges in a game all last year,” White said.
Offensively, though, Florida remained in its month-long funk. The Gators had eight turnovers in the first half and as a result led just 31-30 at halftime. For the game, Florida shot 37.9 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from 3-point range, missing several looks close to the basket.
“We’ve got to find a way to finish every play offensively at a higher rate,” White said. “We still have some looks that we have to convert and somehow we’ve got to find stuff in the paint. We’ve got to get to the foul line more.”
Chiozza stepped up for the Gators on both ends of the floor, adding three steals and six defensive rebounds in 35 minutes. Chiozza held James Madison leading scorer Stuckey Mosley, who came into the game averaging 20.3 points per game, to just 10 points on 4 of 14 shooting.
“He was so sound,” White said. “This wasn’t a game on the big stage, but this was as sound as he’s been. Seven assists and zero turnovers and he did not make any mistakes defensively.”
Chiozza said he felt the Gators stayed together and showed toughness down the stretch.
“Just staying together,” Chiozza said. “Every time we had a dead ball or timeout, we just huddled up and communicated with each other, telling everybody where to be, just being in the right spots and just rotate and play hard. That’s all it came down to, rebounds and stops.”
Snowden led James Madison (4-9) with 18 points, The game was a homecoming of sorts for James Madison coach Louis Rowe, a St. Petersburg native who played at Florida from 1990-92 and was one of former UF coach Lon Kruger’s first recruits. Rowe then transferred to James Madison and played against the Gators in the first round 1994 NCAA Tournament, a game Florida narrowly won 64-62.
“You can’t turn the ball over 18 times and expect to beat an SEC opponent,” Rowe said.
FREE THROWS: With seven assists, Chiozza passed Greg Williams and Vernon Delancy for sixth all-time on UF’s career assist list (428). … White went back to a more conventional starting lineup, with Kevarrius Hayes at center, Keith Stone at power forward, with Chiozza, Allen and Egor Koulechov as the three starting guards and Hudson coming off the bench. “We’re just searching right now,” White said. “Keith has been terrific these past couple of days in practice. We want to get him going at the four a little bit.” … Freshman forward Chase Johnson sat out his fifth straight game due to an illness.
FLORIDA 72, JAMES MADISON 63
JAMES MADISON (4-9)
Phillips 1-3 1-2 3, Snowden 5-5 5-6 18, Mosley 4-14 1-2 10, McLean 1-5 0-0 2, Banks 4-9 0-0 10, Jacobs 0-2 0-0 0, Jones 1-2 0-0 2, Wilson 1-4 2-2 4, Lewis 4-12 4-4 14. Totals 21-56 13-16 63.
Stone 2-6 1-3 7, Hayes 0-1 2-4 2, Koulechov 2-10 0-0 4, Chiozza 6-14 5-5 19, Allen 5-10 4-5 17, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Gak 1-1 0-0 2, Okauru 2-3 2-2 7, Ballard 1-4 2-2 4, Hudson 3-9 2-2 10. Totals 22-58 18-23 72.
Halftime_Florida 31-30. 3-Point Goals_James Madison 8-22 (Snowden 3-3, Lewis 2-4, Banks 2-5, Mosley 1-5, Jones 0-1, Jacobs 0-2, McLean 0-2), Florida 10-31 (Allen 3-7, Stone 2-3, Hudson 2-6, Chiozza 2-8, Okauru 1-2, Ballard 0-2, Koulechov 0-3). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_James Madison 35 (Snowden 8), Florida 33 (Hayes 7). Assists_James Madison 11 (Mosley 4), Florida 12 (Chiozza 7). Total Fouls_James Madison 22, Florida 17. A_8,203 (10,133).
Who: Incarnate Word vs. Florida
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850