NEW YORK — Chris Chiozza can’t remember exactly what time he fell asleep Saturday morning, estimating he had around 300 text messages pour into his phone after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer sent Florida to the Elite Eight.
He tried to watch the movie Neighbors on TV back at the hotel to calm down from the evening as best he could. He responded to a few of those texts while trying not to get consumed by it all.
But it was inescapable. Chiozza, the Gators’ junior backup point guard, had become a national story overnight, the image of his shot plastered on the back page of the New York Daily News and leading highlight shows around the country.
“It hasn’t hit me yet just how long people are going to see that or whatever,” he said the next afternoon. “But I’m sure 20 years from now when I have kids and we’re watching basketball together then I’m going to pop up on the screen and they’re going to be excited to see their dad hitting a shot like that and being in history books.”
With 4 seconds left on the clock and Florida trailing by 2 points in overtime of its Sweet 16 matchup with Wisconsin, Chiozza took the inbounds pass and raced downcourt before elevating at the 3-point line and letting float what would become one of the most memorable shots in the history of Florida basketball.
His buzzer-beating game-winner gave the Gators an 84-83 overtime win and made Chiozza an instant NCAA Tournament legend.
A day later, he still couldn’t believe what happened, how that unorthodox, off-balance shot swished through the net.
“It looks like it’s no way it’s going in. When I watch it, it just looks like I lost the ball going up or something. When I look at it I still can’t believe I made it,” he said.
He’s not the only one.
“First I thought he was like throwing it up like for a lob and I didn’t know how much time (was left) and I looked up and it just kept floating, and I was like, ‘Oh, snap,'” Gators forward Devin Robinson said.
Said fellow teammate Justin Leon: “I was watching the ball and I was like asking God, ‘Please don’t let my career be over yet.’ And it went in and it was just, everything just broke loose from there.”
The celebration was immediate and indelible. The Florida bench erupted onto the court and swarmed Chiozza in the corner, before the refs had even confirmed it was indeed a 3-pointer. Teammate Canyon Barry whirled around in circles in a state of pure euphoria as everyone inside Madison Square Garden tried to process the moment.
“It’s crazy, you don’t even really remember what happened,” Barry said. “It’s just pure emotion. You’re running around super happy, and to be able to spend that moment with my teammates and celebrate is something I’ll remember forever.”
For Chiozza, though, it’s something that will be attached to him forever.
He should be in that all-time NCAA Tournament montage now with the Christian Laettner shot against Kentucky, the Bryce Drew buzzer beater for Valparaiso over Ole Miss, etc.
Those are the kind of moments Chiozza — or any aspiring basketball player — could only dream about. In his case, it just happened to become reality.
— Scott Carter (@GatorsScott) March 25, 2017
“Being in the driveway when you’re a kid, you just always dribble the clock down and try to take that last-second shot. And you probably miss more than you make out in the driveway, but every time you hit that one it feels good — just with nobody even around,” Chiozza said. “So when you get that chance to do it in March Madness in front of all these people in Madison Square Garden, it makes it that much better. It’s almost unreal.”
And yet it’s very real. The Gators are in the Elite Eight with a quick turnaround before facing South Carolina at 2:20 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Chiozza knows he’ll be hearing about and seeing his shot for years and years to come, but right now he is trying his best to forget it and make sure that isn’t the Gators’ final highlight in this NCAA Tournament.
Though, that may be easier said than done.
“Every time I look somewhere somebody’s sending it to me or I see it on Instagram or something, so I’ve seen it quite a bit,” he said. “I enjoy it every time I watch it.”