Image Credit: Steven Ryan/Newsday
Four-seed Florida Gators basketball (27-8) stunned the nation with its thrilling overtime victory on Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York, as it edged the eight-seed Wisconsin Badgers (27-10) in the final second for an 84-83 victory in the Sweet 16 round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
OnlyGators.com breaks down the team’s stunning victory below.
It was over when … Florida junior point guard Chris Chiozza drained arguably the biggest shot in program history during NCAA Tournament play by driving three quarters of the court in just 4.0 seconds to hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating, floating three-pointer … in overtime.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) March 25, 2017
That play was the exclamation point on a hard-fought overtime period that did not look to be going the Gators’ way. UF was outscored 6-1 to open the extra period and at one point missed three open treys on a single possession while trailing by four.
It was at that point that Chiozza and graduate transfer guard Canyon Barry, whom head coach Mike White decided to substitute for senior point guard Kasey Hill, made all the difference. A couple free throws from Barry pulled Florida within two with 38 seconds remaining, but an inbounds pass on the baseline thrown to a wide open Wisconsin player looked to ice the game. Instead, Barry chased him down for an epic block that gave the Gators the ball back and allowed Chiozza to weave his way to a game-tying layup with 24 seconds left.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) March 25, 2017
The Badgers held for the final shot and looked to have the game won as star big man Nigel Hayes drove to the hoop, drew a foul and made both of his free throws. But an inbounds from Barry to Chiozza, who took it from there, changed everything for the Gators.
First half focus: Getting off to an uncharacteristically slow start, Florida looked completely outmatched when the game began with Wisconsin taking an early 16-6 lead. The Badgers used a 13-2 run and five straight made field goals to go ahead early and eventually extended their advantage to 11 points as junior forward Devin Robinson left for the bench with two early fouls and did not return over the final 10 minutes of the half. With their top tournament player out, the Gators looked dead in the water but suddenly rebounded with a half-ending 21-8 scoring stretch to take a two-point lead at the break. Sophomore guard KeVaughn Allen, who could not buy a shot to open the contest, scored 13 of those points, including a three-pointer and six made free throws on two fouled attempts from beyond the arc.
Strenuous second half: Talk about a “game of runs.” Florida jumped ahead 10 early in the second half on a 12-4 scoring stretch, only to see Wisconsin answer with a 12-1 run to take a one-point lead midway through the half. The Gators immediately responded with a tremendous 16-3 run to take a game-high 12-point lead at 68-56 with five to play. That’s where things fell apart for Florida, though, as Wisconsin powered its way to the finish with a 16-4 run and eight unanswered points. UF did not make a field goal the final 6:09, turned the ball over twice in the final 62 seconds and allowed UW to drain an off-balance three with three seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 72 as White chose not to foul.
Exceptional efforts: Allen entered Friday’s game 3-for-21 from the field and 1-for-13 from beyond the arc in NCAA Tournament play and started the contest 2-for-10 from the field. But he came through when Florida needed him the most, draining eight straight shots (before missing his final five) to post a career-high, game-high and program NCAA Tournament record 35 points on the evening. He finished 11-for-24 from the field, 4-for-12 from beyond the arc and 9-for-10 at the line. Allen is now 14-for-45 in the NCAA Tournament overall, 5-for-25 from three-point land.
Joining Allen, of course, is Chiozza, who only scored eight points on the evening but posted five of them in the final 24 seconds, including the buzzer-beating three. He also had a game-high five assists and grabbed four boards.
Significant stat: For a crazy game, there were not that many standout stats outside of the disparity in bench points with Florida outscoring Wisconsin 20-3 off the pine. Where that truly came into play was the players’ point totals as the Gators only had one double-digit scorer (Allen, 35) compared to five for the Badgers, which saw their starters combine for 80 of the team’s 83 points.
Odds and ends: No team outscored the other by more than two points in any period on Friday … there were 10 lead changes and seven ties in the 45-minute game … the Gators and Badgers each made 20 free throws on the evening … sophomore center Kevarrius Hayes filled up the stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks … freshman C Gorjok Gak and four boards in seven minutes and was +12 on the evening … Barry missed his lone three but finished with seven crucial points and hit all three of his free throws … senior F Justin Leon had a team-high eight rebounds
What it means: Florida joins North Carolina with the most Elite Eight appearances since 2006 (seven). The Gators have improved to 9-1 all-time in the Sweet 16 with five straight trips to the regional semifinals in as many tournaments and eight straight victories when playing in the round. UF is also now 42-15 in the NCAA Tournament overall.
Up next: An incredibly quick turnaround as Florida facing seven seed South Carolina on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET in MSG. The game will air live nationally on CBS and is the Gamecocks’ first appearance in the Elite Eight in program history.