The Phil Knight Invitational was billed as one of the greatest tournaments to ever be organized, and tonight’s game between the Gators and the Bulldogs might just be the highlight people remember when recounting this incredible event. Battling every second of this 50-minute double overtime thriller, Florida was able to outlast Gonzaga for a thrilling 111-105 victory. Jalen Hudson might have solidified himself as a Gator folk hero for his inspiring 35 points and an incredible blocked shot in the second overtime period to seal the victory. Chris Chiozza also had a career night, flirting with a triple double piling up 26 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. The Gators now move on to play Duke Sunday night in the finals of the “Motion” bracket of the tournament. Let’s take a look back at some of the storylines from tonight.
Trouble Down Low
Overwhelmed in a lot of possessions by Gonzaga frontcourt players Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, the absence of John Egbunu was really felt tonight. Williams finished with a meaty 39 points and 12 rebounds, while Tillie chipped in 17 points before fouling out. Not only were they able to stack up points, but they were able to do it efficiently as they combined to shoot 21-30 from the field. The Gators are about to take on another big, strong, and talented frontcourt in Duke’s, so they’ll have to watch some film tomorrow and see what the can do to contain quality big men.
Home Court Advantage
Though this was technically a neutral site contest, the crowd was largely pro-Gonzaga and this really had a road game feel for the Gators. Every call against Gonzaga was treated like match fixing, and every Gonzaga basket ignited a gigantic roar from the Bulldog faithful. Playing in front of such a hostile crowd is valuable experience that could help down the line.
Righting the Ship
Point guard Chris Chiozza has always prided himself on being a player who doesn’t turn the ball over, and to start the season he had been great at protecting the rock. That was, of course, until the first half of tonight’s game when he committed 5 early turnovers. Instead of getting rattled, he gathered himself and went out and played extremely confident and intelligent basketball the rest of the way, hitting some of the biggest shots of the night and going 11-11 from the foul line on some very clutch attempts. That is exactly what you want from your senior point guard and I’m sure Coach White will be very pleased with his effort.
Huge Shot Hudson
Time after time, when the Gators needed a big bucket, Jalen Hudson stepped up to the plate. He went an astonishing 8-12 from the 3-point line, and it seemed like every one of those makes was contested and in a time where the game was starting to slip away for the Gators. Having a player like this with the confidence to step up in big moments is massive in close matchups, and those are the guys that can win you games in the NCAA Tournament.
A pair of Gators, Jalen Hudson and Kevarrius Hayes, were able to convert on a “5-point play” when Hayes was fouled the moment Jalen Hudson hit a 3. It was a one-and-one situation, and Hayes was able to knock down both attempts to make the game 66-65 when it seemed like Gonzaga was going on a big run.
Any time you go to double overtime you are going to be relying on your best players to play major minutes. Additionally, when you play good competition your rotation is going to shrink. The Gators really leaned on a core six players for big time minutes (Chiozza 46, Allen 46, Koulechov 44, Stone 34, Hudson 31, Hayes 24), and there was a time late in the second half where the squad was noticeably tired. Having an off day before taking on Duke will hopefully give an opportunity to recovery, as they’ll need their legs to take on the #1 ranked team in the country.
It’s always a big game when you get to take on the #1 team in the country, so make sure to keep it locked to Gator Country leading up to Sunday’s game against Duke!