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.
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.