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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida showed some defensive toughness in crunch time, something that had been missing all season.
Chris Chiozza scored 19 points, KeVaughn Allen added 17 and the Gators ended a two-game, home-losing streak with a 72-63 victory against James Madison on Wednesday.
Although Florida led by five points with less than eight minutes to play, the team tightened up down the stretch and closed out a much-needed victory. James Madison was 1-of-9 shooting in the final 7:31.
"I thought we got after it and showed some character despite missing shots," Florida coach Mike White said. "This was an improvement. I wish it was a bigger improvement, but we'll take it."
Playing their first game this season as an unranked team, the Gators won for the second time in nearly a month. Florida (7-4) had lost four of its previous five.
The main issues had been rebounding, interior defense and transition defense. White saw baby steps against the Dukes (4-9), who are ranked 338th out of 351 in RPI.
"We could have beat these guys by 25 and scored 105 points and been horrific defensively," White said. "I've seen that movie, and it's not helping us against the best teams in the country. This isn't about how many we can score. It's about being the best team we can be, and we want to be really competitive in our league and we want to hopefully have a chance to make a run in some tournament in March.
"We had some improvement. We did. I thought we were scrappy and flying around."
The Dukes finished with 18 turnovers, including four charges.
"You can't turn the ball over 18 times and expect to beat an SEC team," JMU coach Louis Rowe said.
Chiozza made 6 of 14 shots, including two 3-pointers, and added seven assists and six rebounds. He made all five free throws and had no turnovers. Allen was 5-of-10 shooting, including 3 of 7 from behind the arc.
Chiozza also held James Madison's leading scorer, Stuckey Mosley, to 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
"That's about as sound as he's been," White said. "He was the best player on the floor."
The Dukes were in the game most of the night, but never looked like they would pull off an upset. Florida had more size, speed and depth — and it showed.
Ramone Snowden led JMU with 18 points and eight rebounds. Matt Lewis added 14 points off the bench.
James Madison: The Dukes are one of the nation's youngest teams, having returned just two players from last season, and continue to keep games close. They lost their previous four by a combined 10 points.
Florida: The Gators have one game remaining before beginning Southeastern Conference play and look far from ready, especially on the defensive end.
Rowe appears to be only person to play basketball for both schools. Rowe started his career at Florida in 1990 and scored 11 points in a victory against James Madison that year. After two years in Gainesville, Rowe transferred to James Madison and ended his junior season by losing to the Gators in the first round of the 1994 NCAA Tournament.
New Florida football coach Dan Mullen got a warm reception when introduced midway through the second half. Mullen signed a recruiting class that ranked in the top 20 nationally earlier in the day. The group included dual-threat quarterback Emory Jones of Franklin, Georgia.
James Madison: Takes a week off before hosting West Virginia Wesleyan next Wednesday.
Florida: Returns to the court Friday, hosting Incarnate Word.
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