Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson summed up No. 8 Florida’s 70-63 win over New Hampshire as a learning experience.
“It’s kind of like a smack in the face,” Hudson said Sunday. “We are nowhere as good as we think we are. We are preseason 8 in the country and we’re not there yet. I’m kind of glad we had it now … I feel like this will be good for us.”
It was Hudson’s heroics that allowed the Gators to escape with the win, as the 6-foot-6 transfer guard from Virginia Tech scored 17 of UF’s final 22 points, including a driving layup with 1:41 left that put the Gators ahead 68-63. Then, after a key UF defensive stop, redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone hit a pair of clutch free throws with 43 seconds left to seal the win in the O’Connell Center.
After scoring over 100 points in back-to-back games to start the season for the first time in program history, the Gators (3-0) struggled offensively, shooting just 32.1 percent from the floor and 16.7 percent (3-18) from 3-point range. Hudson led three UF scorers with 26 points and seven rebounds, while grad transfer forward Egor Koulechov had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double for the Gators. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza, who battled foul trouble throughout the game, had 12 points, but no assists.
With the offense misfiring, Florida needed to rely on a defense that held New Hampshire to 36.1 percent from the floor. The Wildcats (1-2) hung around by shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, including a few banked-in 3s. But Florida was able to get the stops it needed to down the stretch, limiting the Wildcats to just two points in the final 3:13.
“I thought we played as hard defensively over the course of 40 (minutes) as we’ve played,” Florida coach Mike White said.
But White felt the Gators at times lacked physical toughness underneath the basket, an area that will be a concern until senior center John Egbunu returns from rehabbing a torn ACL in January. New Hampshire senior forward Tanner Leissner burned Florida inside with some nifty shot fakes and up-and-under moves to finish with a team-high 23 points.
“We had a couple of wall ups there, one-on-one in the post, even one-on-two in the post, where we are there and we just got knocked off the basket because they’re a little bit tougher than us,” White said.
New Hampshire sold out defending the 3-point line early against a Gator team that entered Sunday night shooting 48.1 percent (26-54) from 3-point range. The strategy worked. The Gators tried to drive to the basket early but were unable to finish, going just 5 for 13 on layup attempts. It didn’t help that Chiozza got in early foul trouble and was forced to sit the final three minutes of the first half with two fouls. After building an eight-point first-half lead, Florida missed eight of its last nine shot attempts in the first half. UNH closed the half with a 12-4 run, which included a banked-in 3-pointer by sophomore guard John Ogwuche and a 3-pointer by junior guard Jordan Reed at the first half buzzer that tied the score at 32 at halftime.
“We’re a good defensive team and that’s what we’ve kind of built our program on,” New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion said. “I thought our kids did a great job carrying out the game plan and the scouting report.”
Florida, which came into the game averaging an NCAA best 25 assists, had just one assist in the first half and three for the game.
“Some of it, in my opinion was guys hunting a little bit, maybe a little too eager to try to score 100, to try to get mine,” White said. “I do think in my guys defense, we’ve been unbelievably unselfish. I’ll be anxious to look at the film.”
Chiozza scored UF’s first five points in the second half, but Florida was unable to put New Hampshire away. The Wildcats took a brief 49-48 lead on another banked-in 3-pointer from Ogwuche before Hudson got rolling. Hudson got a dunk in transition to put Florida back up 50-49, then got to the line and made a pair of free throws and then followed it up with a corner 3-pointer to put the Gators back up 55-51.
“I tried to stay aggressive the entire game,” Hudson said. “I didn’t want to get passive at all. It started coming to me later on in the game and my teammates started looking to me more. I thought we closed the game well.”
White said he was as pleased with Hudson’s seven rebounds as he was with the 26 points, which included several timely shots down the stretch.
“That just shows you his potential,” White said, “He’s as talented as anyone on our team.”
What: Phil Knight Invitational
Who: Florida vs. Stanford
When: 10 p.m. Thursday
Where: Portland, Oregon
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850