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Gators get last bite, beat Mizzou on last-second layup

January 6, 2018 GMT

UPDATED, 2:20 p.m.

COLUMBIA, MO. • In their SEC home opener, the Missouri Tigers found a new way to break their own hearts Saturday.

Tied with Florida and the final seconds ticking away, the Tigers held the ball for a chance to win, but Florida’s Chris Chiozza intercepted Jordan Geist’s pass from the wing back to Kassius Robertson at the top of the key, then sailed in for the game-winning layup to beat the final buzzer for a 77-75 victory.

Chiozza’s basket gave the Gators their first lead since 13:51 was left in the game.

The loss, Mizzou’s first at home, dropped the Tigers to 11-4 and 1-1 in conference play. Florida improved to 11-4 and 3-0 in SEC games.

Jordan Barnett scored a career-high 28 points in the loss but was scoreless in the game’s final 10 minutes. Robertson added 12 points after a slow start.

After falling behind 36-35 at halftime, Mizzou regained the lead midway through the second half, then erupted for a 13-1 run, finished by Geist’s 3-pointer for a 62-52 lead with 10:05 left.

The rest of the half became a battle of attrition. Missouri freshman center Jeremiah Tilmon was done for the day with 5:37 left, picking up his fifth foul in just eight minutes on the floor. Jontay Porter played most of the second half in foul trouble.

With 1:31 left, Porter danced around two defenders in the paint for a post bucket, good for a 75-70 lead. But Florida’s Jalen Hudson answered with a three-point play, setting up a crucial possession that fell flat for the Tigers when Kevin Puryear’s rushed jumper missed everything.

On Florida’s next series, Porter blocked Igor Koulechev’s layup but the Gator forward corralled the ball enough to flip a pass back to Hudson, who drew a foul from Robertson while launching a 3. Robertson appeared to miss Hudson’s arm, but the Gators guard stuck out his leg to draw some contact as he released his shot. Hudson made two free throws to even the score.

The Tigers called a timeout with 12.4 seconds left to set up the final fateful possession.

Five Florida players finished with double-digit points, led by Hudson’s 16 points.

Another hot-shooting start put Missouri in front by double digits, but the Gators chomped back with a 12-3 run to take a 36-35 lead into halftime.

The Tigers jumped out to a 12-point lead with another can’t-miss start from Barnett but went scoreless on 10 of their final 13 possessions as foul trouble depleted Cuonzo Martin’s front court and neutralized the Tigers’ size advantage for most of the half.

For the second straight game the Tigers played most of the opening half without freshman center Tilmon picked up his second foul 4:13 into the game. With power forwards Puryear and Porter also saddled with two fouls, Martin with a smaller lineup for long stretches. Switching to a zone defense, Martin brought Tilmon back for a defensive possession late, but Tilmon couldn’t avoid his third foul.

Barnett opened with three 3-pointers, all assisted by Porter with passes out of the post. Barnett’s third 3 with 12:29 left put the Tigers ahead 17-10 as Barnett outscored the Gators 11-10 before the second media timeout.

After Barnett’s third 3, Terrence Phillips stole Florida’s inbounds pass and flipped in an easy layup for a 19-10 lead. Coming out of a Gators’ timeout, Porter knocked down a corner 3-pointer, followed by a Barnett tip-in for a 24-12, MU’s largest of the half.

From there, Mizzou scored on just one of its next seven possessions. Florida answered with an 8-0 run, including a game-tying 3-pointer from Koulechov, then the go-ahead basket by forward Keith Stone. The 6-5 Russion led the Gators with 11 points in the opening half.

Playing for the first time without freshman point guard Blake Harris, who quit the team Friday, the Tigers rotated between point guard Geist and Phillips and at times used shooting guard Robertson at the point.