COLUMBIA, Mo. — Florida junior guard Jalen Hudson had a simple mindset when he checked into the game with the Gators trailing by five points with 3:05 left Saturday at Missouri.
“I knew we were down so I just tried to come in and be aggressive,” Hudson said.
The 6-foot-6 Hudson scored UF’s next seven points, helping spark a stunning 77-75 comeback win over the Tigers at Mizzou Arena.
Hudson began UF’s comeback with a driving layup to cut Missouri’s lead to 73-70 with 2:50 left. Then, after Missouri went back up 75-70, Hudson made another drive as he was fouled by Kassius Robertson, converting the three-point play with 1:10 left to pull the Gators within 75-73.
Hudson was then able to come up with a key loose ball after teammate Egor Koulechov’s shot was blocked, and drew a foul on a 3-point attempt with 22 seconds left. A 67.2 percent free throw shooter, Hudson made his first free throw to cut Missouri’s lead to 75-74, then missed his second. On his third attempt, Hudson’s free throw hit the front rim, but had just enough spin to tumble through the net to tie the score at 75.
Florida coach Mike White made the decision late to check Hudson in for junior guard KeVaughn Allen, who was in foul trouble early and had an off game with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting. White credited Hudson for being productive after sitting for much of the second half. The Virginia Tech transfer finished with a game-high 16 points in 27 minutes on the floor.
“I complimented him after the game,” White said. “I think that when guys, when they develop mentally and they develop maturity throughout a longer career, Jalen as a fourth-year junior, they understand how to keep themselves ready. Certain guys aren’t very good at that.”
“And you’ve got to tip your cap to Jalen who sat there for a while, we were struggling, we were playing from behind, I felt we had to get something going, he’s our leading scorer and immediately we got it going offensively. He played really well down the stretch.”
Hudson is still recovering from being sick after coming back to campus from Christmas break. He played just 14 points off the bench in UF’s SEC opener against Vanderbilt, scoring eight points. Against Texas A&M earlier this week, Hudson scored 11 points in 15 minutes off the bench.
“I’m getting closer to 100 percent,” Hudson said. “It was kind of out of the ordinary, I got sick, so I had to recover first, that was most important first, my health. Just getting the win feels so good.”
For now, Hudson said, he’s OK with the sixth-man role. Hudson remains UF’s leading scorer at 16.9 points per game.
“It’s just about winning,” Hudson said. “Obviously I couldn’t play when I was sick. I was trying anything to help. So I’m just trying to do everything, we all came here to win so that’s what we’re here for.”
Freshmen step up
Florida also got a lift off the bench from freshman guards Mike Okauru and Daundrae Ballard. Okauru had five points, two assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes, while Ballard had two points, a rebound and a steal in nine minutes. With Allen and Chris Chiozza in foul trouble, Ballard and Okauru were on the floor together during a 12-3 run that allowed the Gators to take a 36-35 halftime lead.
“Those guys deserve some credit as they continue to fight for minutes and all freshmen want to play more and my older guys do too,” White said. “I thought both of them were pretty good.”
Ballard, coming off an eight point, three assist game against Texas A&M, was sick Friday and Saturday morning and White said he didn’t think he was even going to be available for the Missouri game.
“He showed some toughness to help his teammates just giving us a few minutes,” White said. “Mike always plays with energy when he’s out there and he’s gaining confidence as a freshman guard he’s getting better with his decision making, of course, like just about every freshman guard in this league.”
Egor streak ends
Koulechov’s streak of 32 straight free throws came to an end Saturday when he missed the second of two free throws in the first half against Missouri. It was Koulechov’s first miss since Nov. 19 against New Hampshire. The streak was 10 short of Canyon Barry’s school record of 42 straight free throws last season.
As a team, Florida shot 68 percent from the free throw line (17-25), below its season average coming into the game at 77.5 percent. The Gators struggled from the line early, making just 7 of their first 14 attempts, but made 10 of their last 11 down the stretch.
It was a tough day for the officiating crew of Don Daily, Olandis Poole and Garrick Shannon. There were some questionable calls on both sides. Missouri freshman center Jeremiah Tilmon fouled out on a questionable call, when it appeared he didn’t make significant contact with UF point guard Chris Chiozza. Florida junior center Kevarrius Hayes went to the line on a phantom call on a missed dunk attempt when he appeared not to be touched by Missouri freshman forward Jontay Porter. Koulechov was decked in transition on a non-call later in the second half.
Florida was whistled for 16 fouls, compared to 20 fouls for Missouri. Florida went to the free throw line 25 times, compared to Missouri’s 21 trips.
“This was a tough game for me, if you know what I mean,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I’m not a complainer, but it was hard.”
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin and associate athletic director Mike Hill attended the game, offering congratulations to players outside the Gator locker room. Also attending the game was Missouri associate athletic director Brian White, the younger brother of UF coach Mike White. … Hayes finished with a season-high 10 points and four steals. It was Hayes’ first game in double figures since scoring a career-high 20 points against Oklahoma on Jan. 28, 2017. …. Florida outscored Missouri 24-16 in bench points.