Two split-second plays proved just how ready Florida is for the 2017-18 season.
Kevarrius Hayes tipped the opening jump ball into the hands of Jalen Hudson, who quickly threw it toward the rim, where KeVaughn Allen slammed it home for the Gators’ first bucket of the season.
“That was a crazy way to start the game. That was really exciting,” Hudson said of the alley oop. “My juices were flowing after that.”
Later in the first half, Gardner-Webb took its first lead, a 12-10 edge. Only a few seconds later, a cross-court pass to Hudson resulted in an open three, giving the lead back to Florida.
Both plays showcased the Gators’ ceiling on offense in their 116-74 season-opening victory over the Runnin’ Bulldogs in the O’Connell Center.
Both teams opened the game with a few sloppy plays and turnovers. But midway through the first half, three-pointers started to fall for the Gators (1-0).
Graduate transfer Egor Koulechov drained five of his seven three-point attempts in the first half, leading the Gators attack with 23 first-half points.
In the second half, Koulechov continued to pace Florida’s offense, finishing with 34 points for the game, one point shy of his career-high at Rice.
“To have a guy like him who shoots it that well, and when Jalen’s got it going a bit, and we all know KeVaughn can really fill it up,” White said. “The floor becomes so spread for us.”
While they weren’t used to anchoring the offense, guards Allen and Hudson chipped in 25 combined points and three assists apiece.
Senior guard Chris Chiozza, who was questionable prior to the game with a shoulder injury suffered in an exhibition game with Jacksonville, came off the bench just two minutes into the game and immediately started to direct the offense.
Chiozza dished out six assists throughout the contest to go along with five points in 23 minutes of action.
Although the Gators dominated throughout the majority of the game, White still expected to see more from his team on the defensive end.
While the Bulldogs (0-2) shot 42.4 percent from the floor, they still paved lanes inside the paint — 36 of the team’s points came inside the box.
“Just a lack of physicality in there,” White said. “Some of it is just softness. You’re there and I’m there, and you’re supposed to hit a wall and you don’t.”
In the second half, Florida refused to ease up offensively.
The Gators outscored Gardner-Webb 61-42 in the second half to build an insurmountable lead.
UF freshmen also got their chance to shine. Guard Deaundrae Ballard led the youngsters in scoring with 14 points and four boards. Guard Mike Okauru added 13 points, including two three-pointers, while forward Chase Johnson scored nine.
“It felt great being on the court with people I came in with,” Okauru said. “I guess we were just building for the future.”
Florida continues its non-conference schedule Thursday night at 7 p.m. against New Hampshire back at the O’Connell Center.
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