Feeling very much like a Christmas break game in the first half, the Florida Gators were able to outlast the James Madison Dukes for a 72-63 victory. Things weren’t particularly glamorous for the heavily favored Gators who seemed to be struggling with their focus level to start, but they were able to get enough key stops and buckets in the second half to pull away for a semi-comfortable lead. The difference in depth between the Gators and Dukes was apparent late in the second half, as the much fresher Gators were a lot quicker to the ball than the young Dukes squad who was forced to rely heavily on their starters. Chris Chiozza, Jalen Hudson, and KeVaughn Allen were all in double figures tonight, and it was particularly nice to see some shots fall for Allen who has struggled to find his shooting touch this year. Scrappy forward Ramone Snowden was the leader for the Dukes with 18 points and 8 rebounds in a losing effort.
Chris Chiozza was the clear leader for the Gators tonight with 19 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals. Add in that he had 0 turnovers, and all together Chiozza had his way on the floor tonight. Playing with a lot of pace, he was able to get Florida’s feet moving after a slow start and got his team good shots against the ever-changing James Madison defense.
In the Zone
Not content to just play man to man defense, the Dukes played some 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone in an attempt to protect the paint and confuse the Gator offense. 2-3 zones are designed to protect the paint and 1-3-1 zones are designed to limit ball reversal, and the Gators did a pretty good job of getting good shots though not a lot of them were falling. A lot of recent opponents have elected to play zone against the Gators, so they have to use these non-conference opportunities to get better at executing offensively against these defensive looks before they take on longer, more athletic zones in the SEC. One of the issues Florida has had against zones is getting the ball inside which has allowed teams to extend pressure further then normally would and defend the jump shots a zone usually allows. That is definitely an area the Gators can improve on, and the addition of John Egbunu when he is healthy could definitely help here as well.
Though he struggled offensively to make some catches and finishes around the hoop, Kevarrius Hayes was his regular active self on defense. Finishing with 3 blocks, a steal, and 7 rebounds, he was the anchor of the Gators defense tonight as a help side defender. He could have done better individually guarding the much bulkier Ramone Snowden, but as a help side defender he is really good at rotating over to block shots and protect the rim.
Stokes Suited Up
Isaiah Stokes, out with a knee injury to start the season, was in uniform tonight but didn’t play. The team is still unsure whether or not he will take a redshirt this season to preserve a year of eligibility, but the fact he was suited up tonight has to make you think that him playing in the second half of the season is in the cards. Florida has had very little frontcourt production this year and it’s entirely possible Stokes could earn a significant role if he plays the second half of the season using his big body to carve out space down low and his smooth 3-point stroke on offense. If the Gators were able to add Egbunu and Stokes in the second half of the season this would be a very different looking Gators squad with a lot more bulk and toughness, something fans might find extremely tantalizing.
The Gators have a quick turnaround to welcome the Incarnate Word Cardinals to Gainesville on December 22nd. The Cardinals are currently 5-4, and it would be great for Florida to get a win going in to Christmas to close out non-conference play. Southeastern Conference play for the Gators begins on Saturday, December 30th when they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in Gainesville.
What did you think of Florida’s performance tonight? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.