Florida graduate transfer forward Egor Koulechov took a trip into the crowd shortly after his record-setting performance in UF’s season-opening 116-74 win Monday over Gardner-Webb.
After a radio interview ended, Koulechov stepped into the student section and was mobbed by the Rowdy Reptiles that remained.
“I was happy this day came,” Koulechov said. “I’ve been waiting for it since I came here. It’s a great environment, a great program. It’s a lot of fun especially when you are winning.”
Behind 34 points, five assists and five rebounds from Koulechov, the No. 8 Gators rolled over Gardner-Webb before 8,604 at Exactech Arena. The 6-foot-5 grad transfer forward from Rice went 11 of 17 from the field and 6 of 9 from 3-point range to match Tom Baxley (Dec. 1, 1962 against Miami) for the most points by a Gator player in their debut.
Koulechov actually missed his first two shots before converting a three-point play on an early putback to put the Gators up 8-4. It was a sign of things to come. The first of five first-half 3-pointers by Koulechov put the Gators ahead to stay 18-16. By halftime, Koulechov had 23 points, helping the Gators build a 55-32 halftime lead.
“You’ve just got to see the ball go in and take what the game gives you,” Koulechov said. “That’s part of what makes this team great. Everyone is so unselfish.”
Florida coach Mike White said he felt Koulechov, who averaged 18.2 points and shot 47.4 percent from 3-point range at Rice last season, was efficient and played a complete game on both ends of the floor.
“I like how after he got it rolling he wasn’t hunting, he continues to take good shots,” White said. “He’s got a quick release and he’s got a nice stroke so obviously a good shot for him is obviously a little bit different than a good shot for other guys on our team.”
Junior guard Jalen Hudson added 16 points for the Gators, while freshman guard Mike Okauru had 13 points. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza, recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered during the preseason, had five points, six rebounds and six assists in 23 minutes off the bench.
All 11 of UF’s scholarship players scored in the game. Florida’s 116 points set a record for points in a season opener, surpassing the 112 scored against Montana State to start the 2003-04 season. Florida had 26 assists to just eight turnovers.
“Offensively, we made a big jump tonight,” White said. “We really moved it. Our initial offensive push in transition was as good as I’ve seen it.”
Said Chiozza: “It’s a sign that we have a lot of scorers. But every team, no matter how good of shooters they have, have games where they don’t make shots. So we’ve got to continue to get better on defense, every game.”
Florida shot 58 percent from the field, 51.7 percent from 3-point range (15-29) and scored 22 points off turnovers in a dynamic offensive night.
“In my 17 years coaching basketball, I told Mike White that I don’t think I’ve seen a team attack that quickly in transition,” Gardner-Webb coach Tim Craft said.
But while Florida rolled offensively, the Gators had some defensive lapses in allowing Gardner-Webb to score 42 points in the second half. The Bulldogs (0-2) shot 42.4 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range. It’s something that the Gators will look to work on in their next game Thursday night against UNF.
“We can’t count on shooting the kind of clip we did tonight every night,” White said.
FREE THROWS: Former Gator forward Canyon Barry not only attended the game, but played trombone in the pep band and was shown on the Jumbotron at Exactech Arena. Barry was cut from a pro team in Finland and is back on UF’s campus to continue to pursue his grad degree in nuclear engineering. … Other former Gators who attended the game included guard Teddy Dupay of UF’s 2000 NCAA Finals and guard Michael Frazier II of UF’s 2014 Final Four team. Frazier played professionally last year in Italy and plans to return to Italy again this year, but is currently rehabbing a knee injury.