Gators pluck Ospreys clean


Florida forward Keith Stone shoots while defended by North Florida forward Wajid Aminu during the first half

(AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 9:00 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE — Perhaps it had to do with facing an overmatched opponent. Or shooting in a smaller, brighter gym.

Whatever the case, facing North Florida at UNF Arena brings out the best offensively for the Florida Gators.

Behind 16 points and nine assists from junior point guard Chris Chiozza, No. 24 Florida rode balanced scoring, smooth 3-point shooting and bushels of points off turnovers Thursday to a 91-60 win over the Ospreys.

The Gators (7-1) reached a season-high in points by shooting a season-high 58.5 percent from the floor and 47.4 percent (9-19) from 3-point range.

Forward Justin Leon added 13 points for the Gators, while forward Canyon Barry scored 12 points off the bench and forward Devin Robinson scored 10 points. Florida scored 38 points off turnovers and got 51 points from its bench.

“Very pleased overall,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I thought Chris Chiozza led that charge, not only scoring for himself but getting others shots, all the way down to the end.”

The big offensive night was similar to UF’s game close to nine months ago at UNF Arena, when the Gators beat the Ospreys 97-68 in the first round of the NIT. In that game, Florida shot 16 of 32 from 3-point range. Florida has shot 49 percent from 3-point range (25-51) in its last two games in UNF’s 5,800-seat home gym. Leon and Chiozza both went 3 of 5 from beyond the arc.

“It’s a smaller atmosphere and the rims are kinda soft,” Leon said. “Most of the gyms we play in, the rims are kinda tight so I think the soft rims give us a boost.”

Florida entered the game shooting just 29.2 percent from 3-point range for the season.

“We shoot really well in here,” Chiozza said. “It’s like playing in a high school gym. I think we were all good shooters in high school.”

Florida handled being ranked for the first time in more than two years with maturity. The Gators built a 45-25 halftime lead, overcoming a hot-shooting start from senior guard Dallas Moore, who scored 12 of UNF’s first 15 points. Moore finished with a game-high 31 points, but UNF (3-6) was down another returning starter, forward Chris Davenport, who was suspended indefinitely before the game.

But for the fourth straight game, Florida got off to a slow start in the second half, allowing Moore to drain a pair of 3-pointers and center Romelo Banks to score an inside basket to cut UF’s lead to 45-33. White then called a timeout and replaced all five of his starters for the second straight game. Freshman guard Eric Hester did a better job locking down on Moore, while Florida steadily built its lead back up to more than 20 points, going ahead 61-40 on a Kasey Hill three-point play.

“Nobody was hunting for shots,” Chiozza said. “Once we calmed down and got used to their zone (defense), everybody was just moving the ball, and whoever was open, we told them to shoot it, if not, get the next guy a shot. We had like two or three people open almost every possession.”

Chiozza matched his career high in assists in a game. The junior from Memphis last recorded nine assists on Jan. 16 at Ole Miss. Chiozza’s 16 points was one shy of his career-high of 17 points, which he last recorded on March 5 at Missouri.

“The game was just moving a little bit slower today,” Chiozza said. “I was patient on offense. The shots just kind of came to me. When I got an open shoot, I took it. I wasn’t hesitating like I’ve done in the past.”

There are still some issues that Florida needs to fix heading into its showdown with No. 5 Duke next Tuesday at the Jimmy V Classic in New York City. Florida allowed UNF to grab 10 offensive rebounds. White said he felt the Gators were “jittery” at times in their first true road game, as UF turned the ball over 12 times and gave up 19 points off turnovers.

But with depth and confidence, the Gators feel they have a chance to pull off an upset. UF will be facing Duke for the first time since beating the Blue Devils in the 2000 Sweet 16.

“Duke is always a great team and they’re ranked above us,” Chiozza said. “But we’re going to come out against Duke like we are going to come out against anyone else. I’m sure we’re gonna be a little bit more excited, but we’re going to come out there like Duke is any other team in the country and try not to do too much. We’re just gonna play our game.”

FREE THROWS: Hester scored his first career basket on a 3-pointer in the closing minutes. … With five assists against UNF, Hill surpassed 400 assists for his career. At 401 career assists, Hill passed former UF point guard Taurean Green (397) for 10th in UF’s all-time assist list.

Gators add Stokes to 2017 Class

Florida has added some size and strength to its 2017 basketball class this week.

Three/four-star power forward Isaiah Stokes has signed to play for the Gators next season.

The 6-foot-8, 270-pound Stokes is the younger brother of former Tennessee and NBA power forward Jarnell Stokes. Like his older brother, Stokes is a wide-bodied prospect who is tough to handle on the boards. He chose Florida over Iowa State, Tennessee and TCU.

Stokes is playing this season at IMG Academy in Bradenton. He joins four-star 6-6 swingman DeAundrae Ballard and three-star forward Chase Johnson as the third signee of UF’s 2017 class.

— Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

No. 24 FLORIDA 91, NORTH FLORIDA 60

FLORIDA (7-1)

Robinson 3-7 4-7 10, Leon 3-6 4-4 13, Egbunu 3-6 1-2 7, Hill 2-5 1-1 5, Allen 2-2 1-2 5, Stone 2-2 3-4 8, Gak 2-2 0-0 4, Hayes 3-4 2-3 8, Rimmer 0-0 0-0 0, Chiozza 5-8 3-3 16, Hester 1-1 0-0 3, Barry 5-11 1-2 12. Totals 31-54 20-28 91.

NORTH FLORIDA (3-6)

Aminu 0-3 4-8 4, Banks 3-6 1-1 7, Bodager 1-6 0-0 2, Malonga 0-4 0-0 0, Moore 12-21 1-1 31, Odum 0-2 4-4 4, Sams 1-3 0-0 2, Blount 2-6 2-3 6, Horne 1-3 2-2 4. Totals 20-54 14-19 60.

Halftime_Florida 45-25. 3-Point Goals_Florida 9-19 (Chiozza 3-5, Leon 3-5, Stone 1-1, Hester 1-1, Barry 1-4, Hill 0-1, Robinson 0-2), North Florida 6-21 (Moore 6-12, Horne 0-1, Blount 0-1, Malonga 0-3, Bodager 0-4). Fouled Out_Aminu. Rebounds_Florida 32 (Robinson 6), North Florida 22 (Blount 4). Assists_Florida 16 (Chiozza 8), North Florida 2 (Aminu, Moore 1). Total Fouls_Florida 18, North Florida 21.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top