It wasn’t a called play, nothing special, nothing drawn up on a napkin or on a whiteboard.
It was just the play of the game.
“It was just Chris Chiozza,” said Jalen Hudson.
With the Florida basketball team leaking oil again, a 14-point second-half lead erased and less than 30 seconds to play, Chiozza found Hudson cutting to the basket for a big three-point play and Florida made just enough free throws the rest of the way to beat 12th-ranked Auburn 72-66 at Exactech Arena.
An electric crowd of 10,503 finally was able to celebrate a win after three straight losses for Florida, now 18-11 and 9-7 in the SEC.
Chiozza’s pass to Hudson underneath and his ensuing free throw made the difference in Florida finding a way to not squander a big night from KeVaughn Allen, who led the Gators with 24 points.
“I just saw him take off,” Chiozza said. “They were trying to match up but nobody saw him. I knew if I gave him a good pass he would make it.”
It was the last of 12 assists for Chiozza and Hudson’s made free throw on the play gave the wingman 19 points for the night. Florida also got 12 points and six rebounds from freshman Dontay Bassett, making his first start.
Three usual UF starters — Allen, Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone — sat on the bench at the beginning of the game because they were late to a team meeting Friday night.
It was the second time this season for Allen, but while he may need a watch he did find his shot.
After starting 0-for-5, Allen caught fire, making six straight shots, including a 75-footer at the buzzer to close out the first half, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
“I was surprised that it went in because from the angle that I was at it didn’t look like it was going to go in at all,” Allen said. “It looked like it curved at the last second.”
Allen’s performance came after another long meeting Thursday with UF coach Mike White about being aggressive. Even when he missed the first five shots, Allen didn’t hesitate and made 8 of his last 10.
“I just pushed through it and not think about my missed shots and stay aggressive because my team needed it,” said Allen.
Florida needed Allen because Egor Koulechov went 2-for-12 and Chiozza continued his free throw slump that has seen him miss eight of his last nine free throws.
“The last two games, I don’t know what’s happened,” Chiozza said. “I had a couple go in and out. I’m not too worried about it.”
The win was a big one for the Gators, who have been battling to stay in the mix for an NCAA bid. Auburn, now 24-5 and 12-4 in the conference, came in with an RPI that was 6th in the country.
“I hope it makes us feel good for about an hour,” White said. “We play in Tuscaloosa (against Alabama) on Tuesday. This current Gator team has not handled success well.”
It will be a different situation on the road Tuesday, but the crowd Saturday night was bouncing off the walls.
“It was on fire,” White said. “It was a great college basketball environment. Arguably the best of the year and they were just rocking.”
Said Chiozza, “The whole game I felt like they were out there on the court with us.”
Mustapha Heron, who missed Auburn’s last game with the flu, led the Tigers with 22 points.
Florida led the game by two when Hudson blocked an Auburn 3-point attempt by Bryce Brown and Chiozza was fouled. But Chiozza missed both free throws and after a questionable review gave Auburn the ball, the Tigers tied it on a pair of Jared Harper free throws.
Chiozza then found Hudson breaking free underneath for the three-point play that made it 69-66 Florida with 26.8 seconds to play.
Harper then missed a 3 with 16 seconds to go and Koulechov snagged the rebound. Koulechov made one of his free throws and Auburn again missed a 3 on the other end.
Allen’s final two free throws put the nail in the coffin.
Despite missing a wide-open dunk, a lay-up and allowing Auburn an unguarded basket on an inbounds play, Florida found itself leading by nine at the break thanks to a sudden hot hand from Allen.
Allen made consecutive 3-pointers late in the half to put Florida in the lead, then nailed the three-quarter court shot at the buzzer to make it 33-24 at the half.
Florida forced 13 first-half turnovers and limited Auburn to two made 3-point shots.
But Auburn came out firing in the second half with three made 3-point shots in the first four minutes that helped the Tigers cut what had blossomed into a 14-point lead for Florida to four.
Auburn finally took the lead with 3:53 to play on a 3 by Heron. But Hudson countered on the other end with one of his own.
Allen made a 3 to give UF a 63-62 lead, then another from the corner after two free throws by Heron to make it 66-64 and set up the dramatic finish.
“He’s so capable,” White said of Allen. “He’s an electric scorer.”
|FLORIDA 72, No. 12 AUBURN 66|
Murray 3-5 4-5 10, Spencer 3-5 0-1 6, Brown 2-8 0-0 6, Harper 3-10 2-2 8, Heron 8-11 2-2 22, Okeke 5-11 0-0 12, Mitchell 0-2 0-0 0, Dunbar 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 25-56 8-10 66.
Bassett 5-6 2-3 12, Hudson 7-14 1-4 19, Okauru 0-2 0-0 0, Chiozza 3-5 1-5 8, Koulechov 2-12 1-2 7, Stone 0-2 0-0 0, Hayes 1-3 0-0 2, Ballard 0-0 0-0 0, Allen 8-15 2-2 24. Totals 26-59 7-16 72.
Halftime_Florida 33-24. 3-Point Goals_Auburn 8-23 (Heron 4-5, Okeke 2-5, Brown 2-6, Murray 0-1, Mitchell 0-1, Dunbar 0-2, Harper 0-3), Florida 13-28 (Allen 6-10, Hudson 4-6, Koulechov 2-8, Chiozza 1-2, Okauru 0-1, Stone 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Auburn 36 (Okeke 10), Florida 27 (Bassett, Koulechov 6). Assists_Auburn 13 (Brown 5), Florida 17 (Chiozza 12). Total Fouls_Auburn 18, Florida 13.