The numbers weren’t pretty. Florida shot 34 percent from the field, 30.4 percent from behind the 3-point line and 56.5 percent from the free throw line. They turned it over just nine times, and the shots weren’t falling, limiting the Florida offense.
But when the Gators needed points, they were able to put UAB away late in the game. Florida ended it on an 11-0 run with seven of those points coming off free throws. The dagger came after Jon Horford blocked a shot with one minute left, leading to a fast break dunk by Dorian Finney-Smith that pushed the lead to six points.
“I was really proud of the way we closed the game,” Billy Donovan said on the postgame radio show. “We battled, really fought and tried. We made a step in the right direction competitively. Now execution-wise coming off a Georgetown game with no practice time, it’s hard sometimes to see improvement, but our mentality, competitiveness and the will to battle was much better than it was against Miami and Georgetown.”
Defense made a difference for Florida, as the press made life difficult for the Blazers, who turned the ball over 16 times. Point guard Chris Chiozza was active in the press and in half-court defense. The freshman has been all over the court during the early season and was a pest on the defensive end Thursday night. Chiozza had six steals -- all of which came in the first half -- and fell just two shy of the school record for steals in one game.
He added a trio of 3-pointers, going 4-8 from the field for 13 points to go with three assists and two turnovers.
“I didn’t play (Chiozza) much against Georgetown,” Donovan said. “He has the tendency to float -- there’s times he gives great effort and there’s times where he doesn’t. When his effort isn’t great, it’s hard to put him out there. He came out like a fireball and really gave us a good boost.”
The only other Florida player in double figures was Michael Frazier with 14 points, adding eight rebounds, two assists and one block.
Eli Carter (mid-foot sprain) returned to action against Georgetown on Wednesday night but didn’t play on Thursday. Seth Davis of CBS and Sports Illustrated reported that Carter woke up with soreness in his foot and Donovan elected not to push him.
Florida plays No. 5 North Carolina on Friday at 8 p.m. The game will be televised on AXS TV.