Despite a sloppy first half offensively and being forced into their first overtime of the season, the Florida Gators prevailed and escaped with a much needed victory.
Michael Frazier II had a game-high 21 points, shooting 11-of-13 from the free throw line and Chris Chiozza added a career-high 11 points off the bench to lead the No. 8 Gators (2-1) over the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (2-1) 61-56 Friday night at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
The Gators failed to close out the game for the second time this week after their previous match with Miami, the Warhawks forced overtime and Florida saw themselves in a similar situation once again.
Frazier, Chiozza, Jacob Kurtz and Kasey Hill combined to knock down eight free throws and Jon Horford put in a dunk in overtime to seal the first overtime the Gators have played since Jan. 11 of last season versus Arkansas, which was the only overtime game that season.
“I actually think this was really, really good for our team. I don’t think we have any concept of what even goes into winning. We need this right now and we get exposed,” head coach Billy Donovan said of the overtime win. “I knew tonight we were going to struggle scoring. You can’t take our two leading scorers off the floor and expect to put up a lot of points.”
Those two leading scorers left Florida’s attack cold. Dorian Finney-Smith remains out with his fractured fingers and Eli Carter injured his foot during practice on Thursday and did not play against ULM. His status lies between a eight to ten day absence to what could be a serious Lisfranc injury that can put him out for a lot longer.
With those two players missing, the Gators shot 35 percent at the half shooting 10-of-28 as the Warhawks made 42 percent of their first half shots.
Florida never gained a lead throughout the first half and played catch up until Jacob Kurtz made a fast break lay up to put the team up at 13:26 in the second half and the Gators would excel from there.
“We took them for granted, knowing that it was Louisiana Monroe, which you should never do against an opponent,” Chiozza said. “We underestimated them. In the second half, we got a sense of desperation and really fought and played defense a lot better and got after it.”
The second half turnaround would lead the Gators halting the Warhawks offense to 8-of-30 for 26 percent, but it wasn’t enough due to the extra period of play that eventually turned into a victory for Florida.
With the win, the Gators improved to 49-40 all-time in overtime and converted heavily from the free throw line to make the difference in the game making 24 shots compared to the Warhawks five.
In addition, forward Chris Walker made his season debut after serving a three-game suspension and would go on to total four points and six rebounds.
The Gators experienced a tough week, but will now move out of the state and head to Paradise Island, Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament starting Wednesday against Georgetown at 9:30 p.m. The team won’t return back to the O’Dome until their Dec. 8 match up with Ivy League opponent Yale.
Florida has seen highs and more lows so far this season and its simply just going to take time for the team to figure it out.
“It’s honestly a mentality issue,” Horford said. “It’s an energy issue. I’ve been on teams that have started like this before you know where very talented teams, but they just don’t necessarily put forward the effort and the energy, they’re not always on high alert. Fortunately those teams have overcome that, gotten that and have been really tough down the stretch and I feel that this team is going to do the exact same thing.”