The Gators stuck with No. 1 Michigan State throughout the game, but the Spartans were able to seal a 58-52 win over Florida (6-3) on Saturday at the Breslin Center.
“We played really hard, as hard as we’ve played all year,” Florida coach Mike White said on the postgame radio show. “We were really physical, got a bunch of loose balls. We played with a lot of passion and for each other. I was really pleased with out effort. This is as physical of a team as we’ll play all year, and for the most part, we matched that physicality.”
Michigan State (11-0) led for all but 1:50 of action with four total lead changes, but the Gators stuck close by the entire time. The Spartans’ biggest lead was eight points early in the second half when White was frustrated that his team played as if they accomplished something by playing well in the first half. The Gators climbed back into the game with their relentless energy.
Saturday provided a perfect picture of how Florida can play well the rest of the season even without a quality offense. The players dove all over the floor for lose balls, and that effort also showed up on the defensive end. The Gators held Michigan State to 36.8 percent (21-57) from the field and 20 percent (5-25) from behind the three-point line. Florida forced 12 turnovers and forced Denzel Valentine, one of the best players in the country so far this season, to take 17 shots from the field to get his 17 points.
The Gators were able to stay in the game despite zero production from center John Egbunu. The redshirt sophomore came into the game averaging 12.9 points and 7.9 rebounds, but he fouled out of Saturday’s game with zero points and two rebounds in just seven minutes of action.
“Tough one there,” White said. “I guess there was some contact there on some plays that he was called for fouls on. It ended up resulting in him setting by me for the game.
With Egbunu out, scoring became even tougher for Florida. The Gators shot 33.3 percent (19-57) from the field and 22.2 percent (4-18) from behind the three-point line. Florida didn’t make a three-pointer in the first half, but that’s when Chris Chiozza got hot from the three-point line.
The sophomore replaced Kasey Hill in the starting lineup and went 3-5 from long range, chipping in with 11 points, three assists and two rebounds.
“Chris has had a good season so far, especially shooting the basketball,” White said. “He has to continue fighting for minutes. He made good decision, gritty player. He’s got a ways to go, but he had a good game and hit a couple big shots that got us right back in it.”
Hill responded well to the demotion, tying for the team lead with 13 points with six rebounds and one assist. However, his issues from the free throw line continued while going 3-8.
“This was Kasey’s best game,” White said. “He made high energy plays, was flying around the floor and got a couple hard rebounds. He used his athleticism. I was proud of his effort.”
The Gators get the week off for exams before returning to action against Oklahoma State in the Orange Bowl Classic on December 19 at 8 p.m.