Enjoying a night where almost everything was falling from behind the arc, the Florida Gators decisively handled the Texas A&M Aggies 83-66. Chris Chiozza showed veteran leadership from the point guard spot with 12 points, 9 assists, and 4 steals and was insulated by great offensive performances by Keith Stone (18 points, more on him later), and Egor Koulechov (19 points 5-6 from the 3-point line). Toppling #11 Texas A&M, this is now Florida’s third victory over a national ranked team joining wins over Gonzaga and Cincinnati and it is worth noting that all of those victories were either on a neutral site or on the road (things that really matter to the NCAA Tournament committee). If the Gators can beat Missouri on Saturday they could very well be back into the top 25 next week which would give the team a great sense of accomplishment and a good dose of confidence.
Drilling open three after open three, the Gators finished tonight a magnificent 17-28 (60.7%) from behind the arc. Egor Koulechov (5-6), Keith Stone (4-6), Jalen Hudson (3-4) and Deaundrae Ballard (2-3) all had particularly great nights leading to the team’s fantastic stat. Not only did they do this against the #11 ranked team in the country, they did it against a team who is ranked 3rd in the nation in 3-point defense. Shooting the ball like this on the road against one of the best teams in the country should hopefully give Florida’s shooters the mojo to continue knocking down shots at a ridiculous rate.
Keith’s Career Night
With 18 tonight Keith Stone set his career high in points breaking his previous record of 17 in an overtime game against Georgia last season. A player who can be a bit passive at times, his aggressiveness was evidenced tonight by the 14 shot attempts he had when he had previously never recorded double digit shot attempts in his career. He was excellent playing against Texas A&M when they went into zone defense, giving him the time and space to square up and make strong offensive plays. Tonight should be a huge confidence boost for a player the Gators are relying on heavily in the frontcourt.
Sharing is Caring
Recording 27 assists on 33 made field goals, the Gators shared the ball tonight better then they have all season. That ratio of assists to made buckets is incredible, and it will certainly make former point guard Coach White extremely happy. Playing against one of the best defensive teams in the country they used ball movement to repeatedly get open looks and pick apart the Aggies’ defense. The intelligent ball movement lead to a lot of the open shots tonight and hopefully the team can continue to pass like that throughout conference play and beyond.
Clogging the Paint
Whether in man or zone defense the primary focus for the Gators was to keep the ball out of the paint and out of the hands of Texas A&M’s interior monsters, and they did it about as well as Coach White could have hoped. Normally playing high pressure defense where they get out and challenge players on the perimeter, the Gators did the opposite by sagging off the Aggie guards and wings to deter a pass to the inside, instead daring them to shoot. Giving up so much size to Texas A&M this was an intelligent way to play team defense and I’m guessing we’ll see this style again when Florida takes on some elite bigs so watch for it again in the future.
Over and over again we’re seeing that Florida’s ability to take care of the ball is paramount to their success. They only turned the ball over 7 times tonight against a fantastic defense, a number made even more impressive when you factor in their 27 assists. Alternatively, Texas A&M turned the ball over 16 times, one of the aspects of the game that really bit them and handcuffed their ability to get back into the game. If Florida continues to dominate the turnover margin they’ll continue to win games.
Florida went a shocking 0-1 from the free throw line tonight (Hudson with a miss on the team’s only attempt. I wonder if the guys will realize that and give him a hard time). I’m not sure the last time Florida, or any team in college basketball for that matter, has only attempted one free throw in a game and won but the Gators will take it. I don’t take the single free throw attempt as bad officiating, as the Gators honestly didn’t get the ball into the paint much tonight because they didn’t need to. Texas A&M defends the paint as well as just about anyone in the country and Florida was nearly automatic from three so there was no need to venture into the paint tonight and get fouled. Let me be clear, that won’t work every night, but it worked tonight.
What’s Up Next
The Gators head to Columbia to take on the Kassius Robertson and the Missouri Tigers on January 6. Despite the heartbreak of losing Michael Porter Jr., the Tigers have been able to have a fairly strong season so far and will be a challenging team to knock off at home.
What did you think of Florida’s big win tonight? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.