Gators blast Bonnies, move on to face Texas Tech

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Florida guard Chris Chiozza battles St. Bonaventure guard Jaylen Adams (3) for space during the first half Thursday of the NCAA Tournament game in Dallas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

DALLAS — In the bowels of the American Airlines Center, shortly after sixth-seed Florida moved on with a 77-62 win over 11th-seed St. Bonaventure in the NCAA Tournament, Florida coach Mike White offered a simple, two-word explanation for the victory.

“We guarded,” White said.

Florida re-found its gritty, grinding, defense-first mentality after its disappointing early exit in the SEC Tournament, in which it gave up 80 points for the first time in four months in an 80-72 loss to Arkansas.

As a result, the Gators (21-12) will live to play another game, facing third-seed Texas Tech (25-9) on Saturday at 8:40 p.m. (TNT). The Raiders rallied from down 8 points in the second half to beat 14th-seed Stephen F. Austin 70-60 earlier Thursday night. Florida and Texas Tech will be meeting for the first time since Dec, 8, 1962, a game the Gators won 71-69.

Coming off subpar efforts in the SEC Tournament against Arkansas, transfer guards Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson answered the bell against the Bonnies. Koulechov led Florida with 20 points and 6 rebounds, with Hudson scoring 14 of his 16 points in the second half. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza had 8 points and 11 assists.

Florida ended the Bonnies’ Cinderella season by clamping down on them on the defensive end of the floor. The Gators got St. Bonaventure leading scorer Jaylen Adams into early foul trouble, drawing three fouls against Adams in the first half. UF held the Bonnies’ dynamic backcourt duo of Adams and senior guard Mark Mobley to just 21 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Florida scored 25 points off turnovers and held St. Bonaventure to 35.4 percent shooting from the floor.

“All the credit goes to Florida,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “I thought they had a really good game plan coming in. They really did a good job on us defensively, especially Jay and Matt.”

Courtney Stockard led the Bonnies (26-8) with 14 points. But considering Adams and Mobley combined to score 48 points last season against the Gators in Lakeland, White said containing the high-scoring backcourt duo was one of the keys to the win.

“They’re a handful to guard,” White said. “And our guys know — they were very, very familiar, especially our veteran guys, Chris Chiozza, KeVaughn Allen. I thought both did a terrific job tonight.”

Florida led 27-22 at halftime, then went on a 9-0 run to start the second half fueled by defense. From there, Florida extended its lead to as many as 23 points to finish off the game.

“That’s what got us going,” Chiozza said. “We got stops early in the second half and we got out running and got some easy baskets in transition and we just kind of built the momentum from there, and was able to maintain it for most of the second half.”

Florida got off to a fast start against the Bonnies, going ahead 20-9 on a Stone 3-pointer with 10:29 left in the first half. But as St. Bonaventure switched to a matchup zone defense, the Gators hit a cold stretch. Florida went close to eight minutes without a basket during a 13-1 St. Bonaventure run.

With Adams on the bench with three fouls, St. Bonaventure got a lift from Mobley, who scored 10 first-half points. The 6-foot-2 senior guard sank a 3-pointer to cut UF’s lead to 20-16, then hit a breakaway layup in transition to get the Bonnies to pull within 20-19 with 5:45 left in the first half.

A free-throw by Idris Taqqee gave St. Bonaventure a brief 22-21 lead. But the Gators regrouped, going on a 6-0 run to close the half by holding the Bonnies scoreless in the final 3:05. Freshman guard Mike Okauru sank a 3-pointer to put Florida back up 24-22, then Koulechov hit a 3-pointer to give Florida a 27-22 lead it took into halftime.

White said his message to the team was to stay the course despite UF’s offensive struggles to close the first half.

“I liked our ball movement in the first half,” White said. “We missed a couple more right at the rim we’ll continue to address. I thought we had decent looks from 3 against a really good zone.”

Hudson said a student manager encouraged him to keep shooting despite going 1 of 6 from the field in the first half.

“They told me to stay confident and keep playing,” Hudson said.

Hudson sank a big 3-pointer to put UF up 50-35 with 9:58 left, then made one of the highlight plays of the tournament, a lunging putback dunk with 8:06 left off an offensive rebound as he was fouled by Mobley. Hudson converted the three-point play to extend UF’s lead to 57-37.

“Cheeze shot, no one was there to block me out,” Hudson said. “I made a move to the basket and put it in.”

Florida improved to 43-16 all-time in NCAA Tournament games and 17-5 in its last 22 tournament appearances. The Gators were once again counted out heading into the tournament, with CBS college basketball analyst Seth Davis picking UF to get upset against the Bonnies on Thursday. But for a night, at least, Florida got the last laugh.

“It’s always, you know, a chip on your shoulder when you’re picked to lose as a higher seed for the second year in a row,” Chiozza said. “You know, it just gives you a little more fuel just to go out there and prove people wrong.”

FREE THROWS: White improved to 4-1 in the NCAA Tournament. … Okauru, who scored 7 points off the bench, suffered a head injury late in the second half. White said the freshman bumped his head but is OK, and anticipates he’ll be OK for Texas Tech. Trainer Duke Werner said Okauru will be checked Friday. … St. Bonaventure, which appeared tired in the second half, beat UCLA in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday. … Dallas is about a five-hour drive from the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock, so expect American Airlines Center to be filled with a pro-Red Raiders crowd.

FLORIDA 77, ST. BONAVENTURE 62
ST. BONAVENTURE (26-8)

Stockard 5-12 4-5 14, Ikpeze 1-2 1-2 3, Taqqee 1-3 2-3 4, Adams 2-6 7-8 11, Mobley 3-13 3-4 10, Griffin 2-5 4-6 9, Ngalakulondi 1-2 0-0 2, Lee 0-0 0-0 0, Brockington 1-1 3-4 5, Galatio 0-0 0-0 0, Kaputo 1-4 1-2 4. Totals 17-48 25-34 62.

FLORIDA (21-12)

Hayes 1-2 0-0 2, Chiozza 3-9 2-2 8, Koulechov 8-17 0-0 20, Hudson 6-14 2-4 16, Allen 2-8 2-2 7, Bassett 2-3 0-0 4, Stone 2-8 3-4 9, Gak 0-0 1-2 1, Okauru 2-3 2-2 7, Fava 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 1-1 1-2 3, Krause 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-65 13-18 77.

Halftime_Florida 27-22. 3-Point Goals_St. Bonaventure 3-19 (Griffin 1-1, Kaputo 1-3, Mobley 1-9, Adams 0-3, Stockard 0-3), Florida 10-32 (Koulechov 4-10, Stone 2-5, Hudson 2-8, Okauru 1-1, Allen 1-5, Chiozza 0-3). Fouled Out_Stockard. Rebounds_St. Bonaventure 37 (Taqqee 13), Florida 33 (Stone 8). Assists_St. Bonaventure 10 (Brockington, Taqqee, Adams 2), Florida 19 (Chiozza 11). Total Fouls_St. Bonaventure 19, Florida 21.

50 COMMENTS

  1. Didn’t look good early with Allen and Hudson shooting blanks, but the Gators played good D, held their own on the boards, and took care of the ball. Great to see Hudson come to life. That was a monster put-back slam! On to face Texas Tech, who I believe has former Gator Brandone Francis on its roster. Go Gators!

  2. That was a good hard-working win. It’s how you make it through March Madness. Actually outworked the Bonnies, and eventually wore them out by attacking the man-zone in the second half. Hopefully the players have realized what happens when they actually attack it and not just stare at it waiting for something to open up. Great job by coach White for putting the right combination of players on the court to make that work.

  3. Very good first win. I thought the team played very well overall. They played good defense. They played with passion and intensity. They rebounded and fought for balls. They guarded the 3 point line well, closed out well, switched well and had good ball pressure. Only a few lapses here and there. They forced turn overs and scored some easy baskets on run outs. However, on offense they took too many 3’s in the 1st half. To much standing around and not enough drives to the basket. The 3’s need to come in the flow of the offense. Against the zone they need to find the seams and drive to the basket and kick out for open 3’s. In the 2d half they did much better. JH’s throw down put back was a thing of beauty, Way to go. Play like the 2d half and its on to the sweet 16.

    • Sure did. Guarded the 3 pretty well. When Hudson comes to play and stays agressive…we are a damn good ball club. Stone is also becoming a nice scoring option.

      We got stagnant for a sec, and didn’t take advantage of woeful shooting from the Bonnies 1st half, but Hudson came out blazing second half. We are a 3 point shooting team so as long as they are rhythm shots with the occasional heat check, I am okay.

  4. bf- I am sure Coach White is concerned about being on your list and doing everything possible to have his name removed and meet your own personal expectations. Your comments add a lot to the conversation, keep up the relentless effort and thought provoking contributions.

  5. I would not call it blasted, and this team has a bad habit of not keeping its foot on an opponent. You are up 23 you should win by at least 15 and better yet by 30. Get them down and keep them down, break their will if you can.

  6. great result!
    Good news UF played with more effort.
    Defense and rebounding looked better.
    Any win in NCAA is a good win.

    Bad news-
    *St Bon is not a very good team. They got in by winning the play in game. That means they would have finished near the bottom of the SEC, if they played SEC schedule.

    *This St Bon lived on guard play, and that is bad match up for them vs Gators.
    I E Auburn lost to UF because they were a bad match up.
    UF has trouble with teams that have scoring 6 9 guy that drives the lane. ( not guard teams)
    * Since Duke game i do not recall UF playing well after playing good in big game.
    They seem to play with less effort. This team can not play with less effort and win.
    *Hopefully TT does not have 6 9 guy that drives the lane.

    I love this team, but they will only be successful when they play “all out” “hard” “fast” “high effort”

    Just the ravings from big fan

    Go Gators

  7. Coach White impressed me last night. He was getting flat out-coached in the first half. The Bonnies were in a 1-3-1 and it seemed like our team just did not recognize it. We were trying to shoot over a 1-3-1 and you can’t because they are matched up and bunched at the foul line extended. Finally in the 2nd half we came out and overloaded the back defender. On one possession he took the post player and left an open 3 in the corner. On the next possession, he took the parameter player in the corner and left Egor open for the cut to the basket. No more 1-3-1! Defense was outstanding but that little stretch shook the Bonnies. Credit Mike White for his adjustments.

  8. bf, win or lose against TT, and you will be back up to your stupid posts soon enough. This basketball season is a success, no matter what happens tomorrow. 20+ wins, 2nd straight tourney, Gator basketball is on the rise again.
    Go Gators!!