COLUMBIA, Mo. — Senior point guard Chris Chiozza spent some private moments with his parents shortly after delivering yet another dramatic finish during Florida’s 77-75 comeback win over Missouri on Saturday afternoon.
Chris Chiozza Sr. and Curtistine Chiozza had driven five-and-a-half hours from their native Memphis to watch their son come up with another clutch play and game-winning shot. Chiozza broke away momentarily to pose for pictures for some young Gator fans in attendance. Cell phone photos snapped. Chiozza smiled.
Last March, of course, it was Chiozza’s game-winning, running 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime against Wisconsin that sent the Gators to the Elite Eight. The stakes weren’t as high this time, but it was an important road league game nonetheless. With just under six seconds left and the score tied at 75, Chiozza jumped a passing line and tipped a pass attempt from Missouri point guard Jordan Geist to teammate Kassius Robertson in front of him. Chiozza then raced downcourt for the breakaway layup that won the game with under a second remaining.
“I had three seconds when I was already at halfcourt so I knew I had plenty of time,” Chiozza said. “But I just made sure I got to the right side and try not to leave too much time on the clock.”
Chiozza said he was guarding Missouri guard Jordan Barnett on the play, but felt he had enough time to recover if he missed the steal. Geist telegraphed the pass, and Chiozza took a chance.
“He was on the other side of the court so I knew if they made that skip pass, I still would have had time to get to him,” Chiozza said. “So I just made a read at the right time.”
That read didn’t surprise Florida coach Mike White, who says Chiozza is his best defender.
“He’s really smart,” White said. “He’s an extremely quick thinker and he’s got extremely quick feet. He’s really fast. He understands the game. He’s an older guard and he just happened to sniff it out. It was a gamble and it paid off.’
Plenty of other players stepped up to help the Gators (11-4, 3-0 SEC) rally for their fifth straight win. Junior guard Jalen Hudson led five UF scorers with 16 points, including scoring seven straight points late to tie the score at 75 with 21 seconds remaining. Senior guard Egor Koulechov added 15 points, while redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone had his second straight strong game with 13 points and six rebounds.
The Gators trailed by 12 points in the first half and nine points in the second half and somehow overcame a career-best 28-point game from Barnett and hot Missouri shooting overall. The Tigers (11-4, 1-1 SEC) shot 47.9 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from 3-point range (11-19) but were unable to hold a five-point lead with 1:32 left. Hudson cut Missouri’s lead to 75-73 by converting a 3-point play as he was fouled on a driving layup by Robertson with 1:10 left. Then, after a missed jumper by Missouri forward Kevin Puryear, Hudson was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 21 seconds left and made two of three free throws to tie the score at 75.
“We never quit,” Hudson said. “We kept fighting. We kept chipping away at it.”
Before an announced sellout (15,061) at Mizzou Arena, the Tigers got off to a hot start. Missouri made five of its first seven 3-point attempts. The 6-foot-7 Barnett caused mismatch problems with his ability to score inside and outside, scoring 13 of Missouri’s first 24 points to help the Tigers jump to a 24-12 lead. White said after the game he couldn’t think of a player that has made as big a jump in one season as Barnett has.
“We didn’t do a very good job on him, but I think he’s going to have a few of those (nights),” White said. “You think you’re close enough, as we told our guys in the last 48 hours, and you’re not. He demands you literally drape all over him.”
Down 32-24 with 4:08 remaining in the first half and with both Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen in foul trouble, Florida closed the half on a surprising 12-3 run to take a 36-35 halftime lead. Freshmen guards Deaundrae Ballard and Mike Okauru both provided a lift off the bench during the stretch. An Okauru 3-pointer cut Missouri’s lead to 32-27, while Ballard made a cutting, baseline layup to put UF up 36-35 at halftime.
The second half featured five ties and seven lead changes before Chiozza’s heroics. Coming out of the final timeout with the score tied at 75 and Missouri being able to hold for the last shot with 17 seconds left, White’s message to his team was to “make them earn it.” Who knew that defense would lead to offense? Florida finished the game with 14 points off 11 Missouri turnovers.
“Not exactly how we drew it up, of course, but that’s the luxury of having a terrific point guard,” White said.
Chiozza said having both parents in the stands to watch the final play made it extra special. Curtistine attended UF’s Sweet 16 win over Wisconsin last March, while Chris Sr. watched on TV.
“I always love when they can make it to games, being so far away,” Chiozza said. “Games like these that are really close to (Memphis), they try to come to as many as they can because it’s my last season. And I just appreciate them being here.”
|FLORIDA 77, MISSOURI 75|
Stone 5-9 1-3 13, Hayes 3-7 4-5 10, Allen 1-5 0-0 2, Chiozza 5-11 2-2 13, Koulechov 4-11 5-6 15, Gak 0-0 1-2 1, Ballard 1-4 0-0 2, Hudson 5-7 4-7 16, Okauru 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 26-59 17-25 77.
Tilmon 2-3 4-5 8, Puryear 2-7 1-1 5, Barnett 8-13 6-7 28, Robertson 3-9 4-4 12, Geist 2-3 1-2 6, Nikko 1-2 0-0 2, J.Porter 3-7 2-2 9, Phillips 1-3 0-0 2, VanLeer 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 23-48 18-21 75.
Halftime_Florida 36-35. 3-Point Goals_Florida 8-22 (Hudson 2-3, Stone 2-4, Koulechov 2-5, Okauru 1-3, Chiozza 1-4, Allen 0-1, Ballard 0-2), Missouri 11-19 (Barnett 6-9, Robertson 2-3, VanLeer 1-1, Geist 1-2, J.Porter 1-2, Phillips 0-1, Puryear 0-1). Fouled Out_Tilmon. Rebounds_Florida 29 (Koulechov 8), Missouri 29 (Barnett 9). Assists_Florida 13 (Chiozza 6), Missouri 9 (J.Porter 6). Total Fouls_Florida 16, Missouri 20.