Chris Chiozza stripped the ball from Incarnate Word guard Keaton Hervey, spun to his left and fired a pass to teammate KeVaughn Allen.
Allen steadily paced himself down the court before throwing a lob back to the 6-foot Chiozza, who slammed it down to give the Gators a 10-point lead in the closing minutes of the first half.
Florida’s final non-conference contest before SEC play begins provided some eye-popping moments in an otherwise sloppy 75-60 victory over the Cardinals on Friday at the O’Connell Center.
The Gators (8-4) received double-digit scoring outputs from Chiozza, guard Jalen Hudson and guard Egor Koulechov, and also took advantage of 23 Incarnate Word turnovers.
“Our activity defensively with getting tips and deflections, creating those turnovers, that was the difference in the game,” Florida coach Mike White said.
The Cardinals (5-5) entered the contest with four of their five victories coming against Division III opponents, but were able to hang with the Gators throughout the first half.
Incarnate Word shot 50 percent from the field in the opening frame, taking advantage of a Florida defense that has struggled to defend inside the three-point line this season.
Meanwhile, the Gators shot just 35 percent in the game’s opening 20 minutes, but maintained a lead for most of the half behind eight points each from Chiozza and junior center Kevarrius Hayes.
The Gators held a six-point edge in the closing seconds of the half until Incarnate Word guard Shawn Johnson nailed a contested three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to cut Florida’s lead to 37-34.
In the second half, Incarnate Word continued to push the pace. It relied on junior forward Charles Brown III, who led the team with 13 points.
However, the Cardinals 23 turnovers turned into 33 points for the Gators, playing a crucial role in the contest’s outcome.
“We were struggling offensively the last five or six games, so we really want to pride ourselves on the defensive end,” Chiozza said. “And the easy way to do it: make them turn the ball over.”
Florida struggled to create separation early in the second half despite shooting better from beyond the arc. After hitting three first-half three-pointers, the Gators knocked down six triples in the game’s final frame.
Florida busted the lead wide open with 13 minutes left in the contest after going on 17-2 run to increase its advantage to 20 points. Eight of those points came from Chiozza, who hit a three-pointer and a last-second floater in the free-throw lane during the run.
Chiozza kept the offense rolling while on the court, dishing out four assists, swiping four steals and not turning the ball over a single time.
“I’ve really just been focusing on keeping my turnovers down,” Chiozza said. “Not trying to make the flashy plays, just making the right plays.”
The scoring run effectively put the game out of reach for the Cardinals and gave Florida its second consecutive win heading into its SEC opener against Vanderbilt on Dec. 30.
Despite the 15-point victory, White said the team isn’t displaying as much self-belief as it did at the beginning of the fall.
“We’re not playing with the level of confidence that we were (earlier this season),” White said.
“I’ve gotta find a way to get these guys playing with the same look in their eye that we were playing with earlier offensively as we continue to try to progress defensively.”
An SEC Network broadcast and videos posted to FloridaGators.com contributed to this report.