COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — On the game’s decisive play, Florida’s Chris Chiozza was assigned to guard Jordan Barnett, who was standing in front of the Missouri bench. But when a soft pass from the opposite wing was directed toward Kassius Robertson at the top of the key, Chiozza sprang into action.
The senior guard stepped in to steal the pass from Jordan Geist and then coasted to the other end for a layup just before the buzzer to the give the Gators a 77-75 victory Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“I wasn’t really anywhere near the play,” Chiozza said. “I just jumped it.”
Florida coach Mike White was asked if he had ever coached a game with a finish that wild. White initially didn’t think so, then recalled last season’s NCAA Tournament regional semifinal against Wisconsin, when Chiozza hit a running 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer to lift the Gators to an 84-83 victory.
“Very, very similar, with the same guy,” White said. “He’s really smart. He’s an extremely quick thinker. He’s got extremely quick feet. He’s fast. He understands the game. He’s an older guard. He just happened to sniff it out. It was a gamble that paid off.”
The Gators (11-4, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) trailed by 12 points in the first half before rallying to take a 36-35 halftime lead. The Tigers (11-4, 1-1) rebuilt their lead in the second half, opening a 70-62 advantage with 6:31 remaining when Jeremiah Tilmon beat the shot clock with a turnaround jumper off an inbounds play.
Florida again came back and tied it at 75 with 22.2 seconds left when Jalen Hudson made two of three free throws after he drew a foul from Robertson on a 3-point attempt. Robertson protested the foul call, which was one of a few in the second half that drew a rise out of Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin and the home crowd. After the game, Martin seemed particularly upset about freshman forward Tilmon fouling out in only eight minutes of action.
“I guess I have to keep my mouth closed,” Martin said. “I don’t want to say anything. But very, very tough for me. Very tough for me — you know what I’m saying. It was one of the toughest ones I’ve ever been a part of.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to let Jeremiah Tilmon play basketball. He’s a 19-year-old kid doing the things we ask him to do. It has to carry over. Let’s hope he doesn’t get a reputation, because he’s doing the right things and he plays hard. It is what it is, but leave it on the floor and let them play the game.”
Hudson led Florida with 16 points, Egor Koulechov added 15 and Chiozza and Keith Stone each scored 13.
Barnett led Missouri with 28 points, and Robertson added 12. Jontay Porter, also saddled with foul trouble most of the game, finished with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists.
After Hudson’s tying free throws, Missouri called timeout with 17.4 seconds left. Geist dribbled the clock down before his fateful pass. After Chiozza stole the ball, he took one glance at the clock and saw three seconds remaining.
“I knew I had plenty of time left,” Chiozza said. “I wanted to slow down to make sure I didn’t trip or anything.”
Florida: After a spotty non-conference season, the Gators have started SEC play well, with back-to-back road wins over quality opponents. Florida beat 11th-ranked Texas A&M 83-66 on Tuesday.
“Early in the season, I thought we were a very soft team,” White said. “I wouldn’t call us soft now, but I wouldn’t call us overly tough either. It’s a process for us. After a certain amount of time, our guys embraced the fact we had some deficiencies.”
Missouri: On Friday, Blake Harris announced his plans to transfer. Harris had started nine games and was part of a three-player point guard rotation. His departure marked the second freshman point guard to leave the program this season, after C.J. Roberts did the same. Martin said he was happy with the play of Geist and Terrence Phillips at the point against Florida.
“We average 15, and we had 11 turnovers,” Martin said. “They played well. Terrence has to play a little tougher defensively, but I thought they did a good job.”
OLD AND IMPROVED
Barnett is a senior, but he hadn’t shown much during his previous years at Texas or Missouri to suggest the star he has become this season. White called Barnett, who is averaging 15.9 points, the most improved player in the SEC.
“I don’t remember a guy making this big of a jump in one year,” White said. “This guy was a good player last year, and he is terrific. He can sprint into 3s, he elevates, he has a high release, he has a quick release. He’s a 6-7 catch-and-shoot guy. He’s a really good cutter. He’s an offensive rebounder. We didn’t do a really good job on him, but he’s going to have a few of those games. He’s already had a few.”
Florida will aim for its fourth straight SEC victory when it plays at home against Mississippi State on Wednesday.
Missouri will host Georgia on Wednesday.
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