Gators pull away late against Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons wouldn’t go away throughout the game despite being without three suspended players, but Florida was too much in the end.

Florida’s lead was cut to 46-45 with 8:48 left to play, but freshman point guard Chris Chiozza broke a 4:42 scoring drought with a 3-pointer. That shot sparked a 17-5 run for Florida to close the game, giving Florida a 63-50 win at the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Fla.

“We’ll take it,” Billy Donovan said on his postgame radio show. “It’s always good to win. I just didn’t really like the way we played. Our ball movement was stagnant, we didn’t have great point guard play in the game. We never flowed into any offense. We were fortunate.”

The three suspensions left Wake Forest without much ball handling, and it showed when the Florida pressure got going. The Gators forced 24 turnovers -- 17 in the first half but it didn’t turn into as many transition points as Donovan wanted. He wanted Kasey Hill to push the pace more than he has in recent games and has been preaching that in practice. Florida turned the 24 turnovers into just four fast break points.

The Gators led by nine points at halftime, but Wake Forest used the first 10 minutes of the second half to cut into it and make it a close game. That’s when Donovan started to see progress. His team lost its energy in similar points of previous games this year, but that didn’t happen on Saturday in Sunrise.

“This is a game against Miami we lost,” Donovan said. “This is a game against Georgetown that we lost. I did see us battle and fight, whereas in those games we slowly fell apart. Maybe we made some strides in resiliency and toughness, but we didn’t play with high basketball I.Q. with the way Wake Forest was defending us. Early in the year in November, we would’ve folded maybe.

“Calling it like it is, Wake Forest is not a great team. And neither are we. To me, this was two mediocre teams playing against each other right now.”

The Gators looked like they would struggle to score when Michael Frazier got called for an offensive foul and got a cut over his eye in the first half. The junior was pouring blood on the court and needed 14 stitches. He returned in the second half and ended the game with 12 points.

“I was concerned when I went over there,” Donovan said. “He was split open pretty badly. It was a very deep cut. I knew he would be healed up and be fine, but I was worried about the concussion. He passed all of his baseline testing stuff. He was cleared by the doctors and said he felt great. It all worked out well.”

The Gators welcomed Alex Murphy to action on Saturday. The Duke transfer enrolled at Florida for the spring semester last year, and he wasn’t eligible to play this season until his fall semester grades were posted. That happened in time to let him play on Saturday.

Murphy energized the crowd with a block on a fast break layup. He ended the game with nine points, four rebounds, one assist, two blocks and two steals in 27 minutes.

“I thought he played really well today,” Donovan said. “Really good energy and did good things. For his first game back in a year, it was great. I was happy that he could get out there and play.”

The Gators will break for Christmas following the game. Florida will return to action on December 30 at Florida State.

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