The Florida Gators bounced back from Saturday’s loss at Ole Miss to defeat the Arkansas Razorbacks 88-73 at home on Wednesday night.
At first, it seemed like it would be another back and forth battle as the two teams were tied at 15 at the 15-minute mark of the first half.
The Gators quit playing around from there to go on a 20-4 run over the next seven minutes and take a 35-19 lead.
Florida took a 15-point advantage to the locker room as KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson combined for 35 of the team’s 48 first half points.
The game didn’t get much closer from there, but the Razorbacks gave the Gators a little scare midway into the second half as they brought it back within single digits at 62-53.
Allen quickly silenced that momentum with a three-pointer on the following possession. The Gators then came up with three consecutive stops on defense, and it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.
“That was kind of the emphasis coming out of one of the timeouts,” Hudson said of the defensive stops. “We were just trying to figure out a way to get three stops in a row, so that’s what we did. Then we hit a couple daggers and you could tell they really didn’t want any part of it after that.”
Florida extended its lead to as many as 21 late in the half on its way to the SEC victory.
The best story of the night came from the resurgence of Allen.
It had been an extremely tough stretch over the last couple weeks for last season’s leading scorer. He was averaging just 4.3 points over the last four games and just wasn’t shooting it the way a player of his talent level should.
While Allen was in a funk, head coach Mike White’s confidence in him never wavered. Each time a question of him would come up, White would say he wouldn’t be surprised if he went off and led the team in scoring the next game.
The Gators have been doing everything in the books to get Allen to shoot the basketball. The student section even joined in on the tactics with a sign that read “Shooters shoot” on Wednesday.
The message was finally received as Allen posted a season-high 28 points against his home-state team. He went 8-for-12 from the field, 6-for-7 from long range and made all six of his free throw attempts on the night.
“Man, I’m so happy for him,” White said. “He was great, wasn’t he? Wow, he played a great game. His teammates are happy for him. I’m happy for his teammates. He needed it and we needed it, and that’s KeVaughn Allen.”
Just behind Allen, Hudson was one rebound away from a double-double as he scored 21 and grabbed a team-leading nine boards.
His offense has never been a question. Hudson has scored in double figures in all but one game for the Gators this season. His defense, however, has been challenged by White from the very beginning.
As his defense continues to develop, he’s becoming one of Florida’s most valuable players game in and game out.
“He’s just such a gifted scorer,” White said. “He’s consistently improving his energy level. He had some good, solid closeouts today. He had some pretty good defensive possessions versus their guards and containing the bounce … Definitely one of his best games this season, and probably would be in the conversation to be the best.”
Egor Koulechov tacked on 12 points and eight rebounds in the game and Chris Chiozza provided nine assists.
Chiozza also provided the biggest scare of the game when he went down on the court in serious pain after taking a hit to the temple.
Hearts were dropping simultaneously around the arena, but according to White, his did not.
“Honestly, I really didn’t worry about it a lot,” he said. “He’s such a tough kid. He’s tough as nails. I figured he’d be fine.”
White was right. After spending a couple minutes in the locker room with the trainer, Chiozza was back out and ready to get back in the action.
Florida had an overall impressive outing against Arkansas as it outrebounded (40-36), out-blocked (6-3) and scored more points off the bench (27-12) than a much bigger, deeper team.
The Gators now have some momentum back and just two days to prepare for a trip to Lexington to take on the 18th ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
“We needed that win,” Koulechov said. “It always feels good to come home and get a win before you go back on the road. Saturday’s gonna be really tough. We’ll do our best to prepare these next couple days and have a good game on Saturday.”