Florida recovers after blowing early lead, beats Georgia to extend win streak
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Florida hasn’t encountered much adversity in its recent run of lopsided wins.
Just when it seemed the 17th-ranked Gators were headed for another rout, they had to respond to a stress test delivered by Georgia.
Chris Chiozza scored 15 points and Florida recovered after blowing a 16-point lead in the first half to beat the Bulldogs 72-60 on Tuesday night and move into a share of the Southeastern Conference lead.
Kasey Hill had 12 points for Florida (19-5, 9-2), which has won five straight. The Gators moved into a first-place tie in the SEC with South Carolina, which lost to Alabama 90-86 in four overtimes, and No. 15 Kentucky, which beat LSU 92-85.
“Our guys just dug a little deeper and found a way to get things done in the second half,” Florida coach Mike White said.
The Gators’ defense was the difference in the second half. Georgia was held to 27 points on 8-for-31 shooting from the field in the final 20 minutes.
Florida forward Justin Leon, who had 10 points and seven rebounds, said the Gators handled the adversity “maturely, like we were supposed to.”
The Bulldogs rallied with a 15-0 run in the first half but couldn’t regain that momentum after halftime.
“We just came in at halftime and tried not to focus on the run they had,” Chiozza said. “… We knew it was going to be a hard game.”
Yante Maten led Georgia (13-11, 4-7) with 19 points. The Bulldogs suffered their third straight loss, each to a ranked opponent.
“We’re not playing well and that really rests totally with me,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We’re not playing well on offense.”
The Gators’ winning streak includes Saturday’s impressive 88-66 win over No. 8 Kentucky. Florida has made runaway wins look routine in their winning streak, and they appeared ready to pull away from the Bulldogs early. After Georgia led 5-0, Florida took the lead with a 13-2 run.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Devin Robinson and Leon helped Florida stretch the advantage to 30-14.
Georgia answered with a 15-0 run that included two 3-pointers from J.J. Frazier. The Bulldogs finally pulled even at 31-all on Maten’s fallaway jumper. Florida led 35-33 at halftime.
After Florida scored the first two baskets of the second half, Georgia could pull no closer than five points of the lead. A 3-pointer by Canyon Barry, who had 11 points, stretched Florida’s lead back to 10 points at 48-38.
Georgia had 16 turnovers, including five by Maten. Florida took an 18-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
“Turnovers have been an issue with this team and I have not solved it,” Fox said.
Florida: The Gators had 12 steals, including four by Chiozza. … Leon was called for his fourth foul and left the game with 10 points with 10:14 remaining. He returned but didn’t score again. … Hill had five assists and two steals. … Keith Stone had five rebounds but did not score in 15 minutes in his return after missing two games with an illness.
Georgia: Frazier had 18 points but made only 5 of 13 shots from the field. … The Bulldogs have lost five of six. … Maten was taken to the locker room with a cut lip with 2:30 remaining in the first half. He returned for the second half. … Derek Ogbeide had 10 rebounds and blocked four shots.
The Gators, who have their highest ranking of the season, are gaining momentum at the right time of the season. Florida’s NCAA RPI was No. 12 entering the game, leaving the Gators on track for a No. 4 or No. 5 NCAA Tournament seed.
DOG DAYS OF WINTER
Georgia’s rugged stretch of three straight losses to ranked opponents also included a 90-81 overtime loss at Kentucky and a 77-75 setback at No. 19 South Carolina on Saturday.
Florida: Hosts Texas A&M on Saturday
Georgia: Visits Tennessee on Saturday