By Ken Cross
Any questions about how tough the Florida Gators are from the standpoint of toughness may have been answered in the PK80 despite a tough 87-84 loss to Duke where they lost a 17-point lead with 10:15 remaining. It was all about the fight, the will to contest, and the drive that saw Florida push even though the shots we’re falling late.
“This just showed we had some toughness in us that was questioned going into this tournament,” said guard Chris Chiozza, who had 26 points and 10 assists two days before in a thrilling 111-105 double overtime win over Gonzaga, “Coach White tells us every day that we have to get tough and I think that this tournament showed that we are one of the toughest teams in the country.”
✅ PK 80 All-Tournament Team
✅ SEC Player of the Week
— Gators Men’s Basketball (@GatorsMBK) November 27, 2017
Let’s back up to that Gonzaga win first. It was a back and forth, serve and volley affair that saw the Gators get nine points from Kevaughn Allen down the stretch including the game-tying layup with 28 seconds remaining to force overtime. Allen has the potential to put the Gators on his back like Chiozza, Jalen Hudson, or really any of the upperclassmen on White’s roster.
The same thing happened in the initial overtime as Florida diced it’s way into the lane and was able to get to the line with consistency, making 9-of-11 free throws before Silas Melson tied the game to force another five minutes. Hudson and Chiozza scored 11 points in the first three and a half minutes to give the Gators a 106-99 lead before Allen and Chiozza closed them off at the line. The poise Florida played with in withstanding everything Gonzaga had to offer again defined that toughness that White is looking for.
“I tough we played with decent poise tonight and incredible poise the other night,” noted White after the loss to Duke, “We are scrappy and tougher than we were a week ago and much tougher that we were a month ago.”
The Gators led Duke at 82-72 with 4:35 left and scored only once more along the way. They missed a couple of check outs on Marvin Bagley that led to offensive stickbacks. Duke retreated on defense and set up with it’s length as the Gators didn’t attack late in the game as they had earlier in the half-court.
“Whether we are up 15 or down 15 we are just going to keep with who we are and that’s what we did,” explained White, “We took four or five really quick ones when we were up 13-16 points, but that’s who we are and that’s what we do.”
Hudson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with Florida trailing 85-84 inside of a minute. Florida was short on shots and all of a sudden their confidence seemed to spiral downward which didn’t allow them to close.
“The fatigue hurt us down the stretch,” Chiozza commented, “We just missed some shots that we normally get to fall. It was probably because we didn’t have any legs left but we could have found some ways to make up for that. Just a couple of assignments we missed of a couple of rebounds we didn’t get.”
Leading the Blue Devils for 35 of the 40 minutes and not being able to close is something White will draw on again and again this season. The positives that came out of the game will outweigh the negatives as both will be relayed, especially if a rematch is on the horizon in March.
“Chris, like all of our guys was really tough and resilient,” White said, “He is the biggest microcosm of it. He’s coming off a lot of minutes here in three days. he scrapped and he fought as did his teammates. A tough loss for us but we got better this weekend.”