For Florida head coach Mike White and company it was just what the doctor ordered, but saw his team fall off a little after getting a huge lead.
“It’s nice to get back on the right side of the win/loss column,” White said shortly after the game. “I thought we got off to a really good start defensively in the first half, coasted in the second half, and weren’t quite as sharp. I thought Missouri was in attack mode and played with a lot of confidence. They punched us in the mouth offensively. We never got into a great rhythm defensively in the second half, but we had built enough of a lead to where we were able to hold on.
Florida sophomore guard Chis Chiozza had a masterful game, scoring 17 points, hauling in seven rebounds, dishing out seven assists, and only turning the ball over once in the contest. Senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith led all scorers in the contest with 20 and hauled in seven rebounds doing the things he always does for the Gators.
Coming down the home stretch of the game, Florida leaned on a three guard lineup which included Chiozza, junior Kasey Hill, and freshman KeVaughn Allen.
“I thought we made some good decisions down the stretch led by Chris Chiozza with 8 assists and one turnover,” White said. “Dorian Smith had 20 and 7. Kasey Hill had a really good floor game. Zero turnovers and hit a couple of threes. That three guard lineup late in the game sealed the deal, kind of iced it for us making good decisions with the basketball.”
Chiozza scored 10 of his 17 points in the second half where his assists from the first half benefited him later in the contest as his teammates started finding him wide open for shots.
“I thought he had a really good mentality from the jump trying to get other guys involved,” White said of the man they call Cheese. “It came back around where he was able to convert later on in the game with really good looks from the guys he originally was getting looks for earlier in the game.”
The Gators shot an uncanny 21 three-point shots in the first half making just six. They shut deep shots down quite a bit n the second period only shooting 12 in the stanza. All the shots came as Missouri dared the gators to shoot working a zone defense that fell back inside the three point line. As the game progressed, more space opened up inside and Finney Smith started making moves to the basket.
“Dorian made some big plays in the last ten minutes of the game in the middle of the zone,” White said. “He really took advantage of having a little bit of space and getting downhill to the rim and finishing with authority. We need a couple of those big baskets that he scored for us.”
The win was big in terms of what may lie ahead for the Gators. The Gators moved from the tenth seed to the 8th seed in the SEC Tournament. After four straight losses to four of the top five teams slated in the tournament, the win gives them a little momentum and a shot in the arm as they take on a group of teams they know they can match up against
“It’s a clean slate for everyone in the SEC,” White said. “It’s up for grabs. I know those first couple of seeds in Texas A&M and Kentucky would be very tough to beat. Vanderbilt is really playing well down the stretch. Then you have a logjam of teams that all have an opportunity to really do some damage. There’s a lot of equality throughout the Southeastern Conference in terms of offenses and defense and everyone will be prepared. Everyone has a chance to do something special.”
The Gators will now face 9th seed Arkansas, a team Florida beat in a shootout 87-83 in Gainesville a month ago.
“Whoever you draw in this league will be a battle,” White said. “Arkansas is a team we obviously have a lot of respect for heading into that game. We were fortunate to beat them. We’ll have to clean up some things and do some things better and Arkansas will have to do the same.”
Here is the bracket for the SEC Tournament.
FIRST ROUND - March 9 (Wednesday)
Game 1 #12 Tennessee vs. #13 Auburn [SEC Network] 7:00 p.m. CT
SECOND ROUND - March 10 (Thursday)
Game 2 #8 Florida vs. #9 Arkansas [SEC Network] Noon CT
Game 3 Game 1 Winner vs. #5 Vanderbilt [SEC Network] 25 min after G2
Game 4 #7Ole Miss vs. #10 Alabama [SEC Network] 6:00 p.m. CT
Game 5 #6 Georgia vs. #11 Mississippi State [SEC Network] 25 min after G4
QUARTERFINALS - March 11 (Friday)
Game 6 Game 2 Winner vs. #1 Texas A&M [SEC Network] Noon CT
Game 7 Game 3 Winner vs. #4 LSU [SEC Network] 25 min after G6
Game 8 Game 4 Winner vs. #2 Kentucky [SEC Network] 6:00 p.m. CT
Game 9 Game 5 Winner vs. #3 South Carolina [SEC Network] 25 min after G8
SEMIFINALS - March 12 (Saturday)
Game 10 Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner [ESPN] Noon CT
Game 11 Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner [ESPN] 25 min after G10
FINALS - March 13 (Sunday)
Game 12 Game 10 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner [ESPN] Noon CT