Image Credit: ESPN Images
No. 17 Florida Gators basketball (20-5, 10-2 SEC) showed that a tough schedule is no match for their resilience, struggling early but flourishing late to shut down the Texas A&M Aggies (13-11, 5-7 SEC) on Saturday afternoon at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.
OnlyGators.com breaks down the latest win below.
It was over when … With Florida clinging to a single-digit lead, junior point guard Chris Chiozza and senior forward Justin Leon hit back-to-back threes from the right corner to push the Gators ahead by 13 with three minutes to play.
Florida came up clutch late in the game after trailing for the first time all afternoon around the 16-minute mark following a stretch of making just 1-of-12 field goals and committing four turnovers. UF was bothered for a bit by Texas A&M switching to a zone defense. The Gators responded with a 12-2 run to regain the lead midway through the half and made six straight field goals as it gained a nine-point advantage. All they had to do was maintain and build from there.
First half focus: A three put the hosts up 11 late in the half, but the Aggies closed the opening period strong with a 14-3 scoring stretch to tie the game at 27 as UF went just 1-for-9 from the field. A couple free throws gave Florida a two-point lead at the break with the hosts knowing they must stifle Texas A&M’s inside game in order to prevail.
Exceptional efforts: Leon had himself a game Saturday, posting a team-high 18 points while draining 4-of-8 threes with five boards on the afternoon. Unlike most games where he starts hot and cools off, Leon bounced back in the second half with a couple key baskets that propelled the team to victory. Joining him with a solid outing was redshirt junior center John Egbunu, who posted a double-double of 11 points and 10 boards. He went 4-of-5 from the field and 3-of-4 at the line.
Significant stats: Florida was bested inside all afternoon, losing the rebounding battle 40-34 and getting outscored 30-20 in the paint, which is the only reason why the game was so close. The fact that the Gators were able to prevail depite all of that is a testament to the way this team is playing.
Odds and ends: Chiozza’s only field goal was the corner three late in the game, but he went 8-for-10 from the line to finish with 11 points along with a team-high five assists … senior PG Kasey Hill had a rough afternoon with five turnovers; his three points came from a 3-for-6 mark at the charity stripe … graduate transfer G Canyon Barry started 1-for-7 from the field but made his last two shots and finished with 12 points … Barry also set the program record for most consecutive free throws made (39) by going 4-for-4 on Saturday … bench scoring was once again huge for Florida with 27 points compared to six for TAMU … UF led for 31:54 of the 40-minute game
What it means: It took the Gators a while to play at their normal intensity, but once they found it in the final 11 minutes of the game, there was no stopping them. Florida is now on a six-game winning streak and playing like the best team in the SEC with an average margin of victory above 20 points during that stretch.
Up next: Florida will spend the next week on the road, first travelling to Auburn for a 7 p.m. tip on Tuesday. The game will air live nationally on SEC Network. Four of the Gators’ last six SEC games are on the road.