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Florida beats Wisconsin on Chiozza’s 3-pointer at OT buzzer

Wisconsin Badgers guard Zak Showalter (3) reacts after the Florida Gators hit a game winning-shot during overtime in the semifinals of the East Regional of the 2017 NCAA Tournament Friday night at Madison Square Garden. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Everett Merrill

The Sports Xchange

NEW YORK -- It was Chris Chiozza’s breakneck speed leading to his 3-point buzzer-beater that impressed his coach in Florida’s dramatic 84-83 overtime win over Wisconsin in the NCAA East Regional semifinal on Friday night in Madison Square Garden.

The junior guard raced three-quarters of the court to the top of the key, then let it fly as he was soaring just outside the arc.

“For Chris to have the wherewithal to know that he can get all the way the length of the court in four seconds. He obviously utilized his speed and quickness and had tremendous composure, of course,” Florida coach Mike White said.

“Canyon Barry had a huge block in overtime. That put us in that position as well. KeVaughn Allen was unbelievable all game.”

Chiozza’s game-winner sent the fourth-seeded Gators (27-8) into Sunday’s final against seventh-seeded South Carolina in an all-Southeastern Conference matchup.

“I just knew I had four seconds and I was trying to get down the court as fast as I could and if somebody was open I was going to pass it,” Chiozza explained. “But I was really trying to get to the rim, but they did a good job of bumping me and slowing me down and that was the only shot I had, so I had to take that one.”

Chiozza’s burst didn’t surprise Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig.

“He’s (Chiozza) extremely quick, we knew that coming in,” Koenig said. “One of the quicker guys we have faced all year, so not really surprised that he got to the other end of the floor in the time that was left.”

Allen poured in 35 points, the most by a Florida player in an NCAA Tournament game. The sophomore guard also established his career high.

Nigel Hayes hit two free throws to provide eighth-seeded Wisconsin (27-10) with an 83-81 lead with four seconds to play before Chiozza’s game-winner. Hayes led the Badgers with 22 points but was 7 of 14 from the line. Ethan Happ added 21 points for Wisconsin.

A layup from Allen had sliced the Badgers’ lead to 80-77 with 47 seconds left and two free throws from Barry and a layup by Chiozza with 24 seconds left in overtime tied it for Florida at 81-81.

The Badgers had to rally late in the second half to force the game into overtime. The Badgerswere down 68-56 with 5:23 to play.

“This is a tough way for them (seniors) to go out,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “And how they battled back, came from 12 down, it’s kind of a microcosm of how they have navigated through the program. They have fought back at adverse times and tonight was a great testament to their will and never-give-up attitude.”

A 3-pointer from Bronson Koenig cut the Florida lead to 72-67 with 1:30 to go and a layup from Happ got the Badgers within 72-69 with 44 seconds left.

Zak Showalter’s running 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2.9 seconds left in regulation knotted it at 72-72. The Badgers scored eight straight points in the final 1:49 of regulation to tie it.

Earlier, Happ was forced to the bench after picking up his fourth foul with the Badgers trailing 58-53. Happ’s return didn’t slow the Gators down. Florida used a 10-3 blitz to expand its lead to 68-56 with 5:23 left, with Allen accounting for five points.

After being down 51-41, Wisconsin went on a 12-1 scoring spree to move ahead 53-52 with 10:21 remaining.

With the scored tied at 34 early in the second half, Florida outscored the Badgers 13-5 to move ahead 47-39 with 15:37 to play.

After a quiet first portion of the opening half, Allen came alive to score 12 of Florida’s final 15 points in just over six minutes, helping the Gators to a 34-32 edge at the half.

The Badgers led 27-18 before Allen took over.

BADGER BITS: Sunday will mark the fifth time that a No. 4 seed and a No. 7 seed match up in a regional final. ... Wisconsin and Florida both played at Madison Square Garden during the regular season. The Badgers defeated Rutgers 61-54 in overtime in January and the Gators lost 84-74 to Duke in the Jimmy V Classic in December. ... Wisconsin advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year. ... Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig rank first and second, respectively, among active players in NCAA Tournament points. ... Florida has made 10 appearances in the Sweet 16. ... Florida coach Mike White’s father is the athletic director at Duke.