Chris Chiozza stole the ball from a James Madison guard late in the first half, sprinted down the court and scored an uncontested layup.
Behind 19 points, seven assists and three steals from the UF guard, the Gators men’s basketball team defeated James Madison, 72-63, Wednesday night at the O’Connell Center.
“Chiozza was terrific,” UF coach Mike White said. “He played one of his best games of the season.”
Despite Chiozza’s performance, sloppy play from UF in the first half allowed James Madison to keep the game within one point heading into halftime. Florida turned the ball over eight times in the first half, leading to six points off turnovers for the Dukes.
Those turnovers were due to careless play on the inside, where the Gators struggled to keep possession of the ball against James Madison’s defenders. The Dukes recorded six steals in the first half compared to Florida’s two.
On offense, UF struggled from behind the three-point line in the first half, making just 5-of-17 shots. The Dukes pressured the Gators along the perimeter, frequently double-teaming ball handlers and forcing Florida into contested jumpers.
“We’ve got to find a way to score on the interior a lot better,” White said. “We’re just relying too much on the perimeter.”
James Madison’s efficiency on three-point defense kept the game close. Florida (7-4) couldn’t build a large enough lead and the Dukes (4-9) remained in comeback range.
After an 0-of-7 start from the field for James Madison in the first six and a half minutes of the game, the Dukes tied the score at eight following back-to-back three-pointers from guard Matt Lewis.
The Gators and the Dukes traded baskets throughout the first 20 minutes, but 11 points from Chiozza and seven points from guard KeVaughn Allen managed to put the Gators in the lead at halftime.
Florida’s inconsistencies continued in the second half, however.
Despite jumping out to a nine-point lead 2:28 into the half off two three-pointers from Allen and a field goal from guard Egor Koulechov, the Gators struggled defensively.
James Madison worked its way inside the paint, going on a seven-point run to bring the game within two points.
“We need to continue making steps defensively,” White said.
While Florida couldn’t get the three-point shot to consistently fall in the second half — making 5-of-14 attempts — the Gators started playing more aggressively inside. Florida went to the charity stripe 17 times, making 14 of them and keeping a strong lead over the Dukes.
After a three-pointer by James Madison forward Ramone Snowden made it a five-point game with 7:31 left in the contest, a 9-0 run over a two-minute span for UF extended its lead to a game-high 14 points. UF guard Jalen Hudson made a three pointer and a layup during that run, and Allen and Chiozza made two free throws each.
Allen finished with 17 points and shot 50 percent from the field, making 3-of-7 attempts from beyond the arc.
Florida’s defense held James Madison to just one made basket — a three-pointer — in the last five minutes, and the Gators’ lead was too much for the Dukes to overcome.
UF will have one day’s rest before taking the court again on Friday against Incarnate Word at 7 p.m. in the O’Connell Center. This is the final game of Florida’s non-conference schedule before hosting Vanderbilt on Dec. 30.
“We’ve got all kinds of noise going on right now,” White said. “We’ve got to get back to playing for the joy of the game, playing for each other.”
A video from FloridaGators.com contributed to this report.