No. 8 Florida Gators basketball (2-1) was forced to deal with a second-straight scare at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida, after blowing yet another halftime lead. The difference this time is that Florida was able to pull out a victory on Friday evening, edging the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (2-1) in overtime.
The Gators took down the Warhawks 61-56 despite UF being severely shorthanded with arguably the team’s two best players sitting out the entire contest.
OnlyGators.com breaks down Friday’s action with nine quick-hitters:
It was over when (overtime edition): Tied 54-54, redshirt senior walk-on forward Jacob Kurtz found redshirt senior center Jon Horford open in the low post after a screen down for an easy two-handed dunk. On the ensuing possession, junior guard Michael Frazier II played tremendous one-on-one defense to force a poor shot and put sophomore point guard Kasey Hill on the line with 27.7 seconds remaining. Hill made both of his shots from the charity stripe to give the Gators a four-point lead, and following a layup and missed And1 attempt on the other end, drained another to push Florida’s advantage to five with 16.5 seconds left to play. Kurtz deflected Hill’s second free throw – a miss – off a ULM player to get UF another possession. Freshman PG Chris Chiozza responded by going to the line and making 1-of-2 free throws to ice the game.
Significant stretch: Down by 12 late in the first half, Florida took off on a 10-0 run to end the opening 20 minutes. The Gators extended that scoring stretch in the second half, using a 15-0 run to outscore the Warhawks 27-6 spanning halftime. UF took a game-high nine-point lead at 44-35 but would eventually give up that advantage.
Second half head-scratcher: For the second-straight game, Florida blew a late lead by allowing ULM to score the last eight points of the second half to tie the contest 51-51 and force overtime. The Warhawks made two free throws and then drained consecutive threes, the second a wide-open look with 21 seconds remaining, to erase the Gators’ hard-earned lead and move the game into an extra period.
Check out the second half of The Fastbreak…after the break.
Prominent players: Frazier did not have his most efficient shooting performance on Friday, but he was all over the court for Florida. Despite being in foul trouble in the first half, Frazier finished with a team-high 21 points, eight boards and two assists. He made 11-of-13 foul shots but was just 4-for-11 from the field and 2-for-6 from beyond the arc. Impressive all-around for the Gators was freshman point guard Chris Chiozza, who was 3-for-6 from the field and 4-for-6 from the charity stripe with four steals, three rebounds and 11 total points. Chiozza also made some game-changing plays in the contest (see below) but got into trouble late with four turnovers and four fouls. Also stepping up big for Florida was Kurtz, who registered team-highs of 13 boards and three assists, including two big ones late in the contest, and was the most technically-sound player on the court for the Gators.
First half focus: Trailing by four, ULM exploded on a dominating 16-2 run (which included three-straight triples and four total treys) midway through the first half to take a 26-14 lead as UF went on a scoring drought that lasted 5:01. After taking some time to find their footing, the Gators were able to rebound from their 12-point hole with a scoring stretch of their own. Florida made five of its last nine shots to cut its halftime deficit to 29-27, finishing the first 20 minutes on a 10-0 run that ended with a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Chiozza.
Perfect plays: Chiozza opened and closed the Gators’ first-half run, kicking it off with an interception that he converted into a coast-to-coast layup and ended it with a buzzer-beating three that he drained off a high screen with Horford. Chiozza swished the triple with the buzzer sounding and was actually fouled on the shot but did not get the call. Kurtz also deserves some love here after a terrific pass in overtime, finding Horford under the hoop for a wide-open dunk that put UF ahead late in the contest.
Standout stat: The +/- was quite telling for Florida on Friday as Chiozza posted a team-best +15, while Hill turned the ball over five times and finished even at 0. Hill was also just 2-for-12 from the field with two assists in 31 minutes but did make 4-of-6 free throws. Struggling mightily for the Gators in the +/- was Walker, who was simply ineffective during his 26 minutes. Walker finished -14, lowest out of any player in the contest.
What it means: The Gators fought through tremendous adversity – a 12-point first-half deficit, playing with only six scholarship players due to having two starters injured – and still found a way to win on Friday.
Next up: Florida will look to get two of its most prominent players – redshirt juniors F Dorian Finney-Smith (hand) and G Eli Carter (foot) – healthy before heading to the Bahamas to compete in the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.