A Closer Examination of Florida’s Clutch PlayPosted by Brian Joyce on March 26th, 2017
It is only fitting that Florida‘s unexpected berth in the Elite Eight came from the most unlikely source. The Gators are on an improbable run, given very little chance by anyone to make it this far despite hanging out in rarefied air among the top four of the KenPom rankings. Even after holding Virginia to 0.65 points per possession in the Round of 32, still nobody expected the Gators to be the favorite in the East Region until late Friday night. After Canyon Barry chased down a sure Wisconsin bucket at the rim with a block that nobody knew he had in him, Chris Chiozza hit an epic buzzer-beater to beat the Badgers by one point. Chiozza was the hero nobody expected for the team nobody thought would still be playing.
Every point scored in basketball counts the same, but we tend to place more significance on time and place. Chiozza’s miraculous shot couldn’t have come at a better spot for either qualifier. Clutch performances are part of what makes March special, and Chiozza came up with the biggest clutch shot of 2017. We examine Florida’s clutch play this season to determine if the Gators have another big shot left in them.
The following table examines Florida’s play in the clutch this season. In this case, I am classifying a clutch play as coming in a game decided by five points or fewer within the last five minutes of play. Florida played nine games (Wisconsin, Vanderbilt twice, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida State, Gonzaga, and Seton Hall) this season that were decided by five points or fewer, with two of those contests going to overtime.
Barry led all Gators in the clutch with 31 points, including a solid 11-of-12 performance from the charity stripe. Chiozza’s heroic shot on Friday night was his first three-pointer in the clutch this season. Only two other Gators have hit threes late in close games. White turned to KeVaughn Allen, Barry, and Kasey Hill far more often than he turned to Chiozza, but that trio is only 2-of-21 from beyond the arc in the final five minutes of close games.
Chiozza had contributed just five points on Friday night before making the biggest shot of his career. White probably wouldn’t have drawn up a play for the junior guard, but the Gators didn’t have time for anything else. Chiozza said afterward: “I just knew we had four seconds. I was trying to get down the court as fast as I could. I was trying to get to the rim. That was the only shot that I had. I still can’t believe it went in.” That makes two of us. Chiozza’s late three looked more like an anomaly than a proven history of clutch performances, but that’s part of what makes March so fun. The Gators were lucky to survive and advance, but their success should no longer be unbelievable to anyone.