Though it wasn’t always pretty, the Gators were able to hold on for a 70-63 win over the New Hampshire Wildcats. Nothing was easy offensively for either team as this physical, grind-it-out battle felt more like a matchup between conference rivals in February then it did a non-conference bout in November. The Gators were lead offensively by Jalen Hudson who came away with 26 points and 7 rebounds, while New Hampshire was lead by Tanner Leissner who finished with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Here were some of the storylines from tonight’s game.
After starting the season with a couple triple digit offensive outputs, the shooting went a bit cold. Going 3-18 from three, Florida shooters came down to earth after a blistering start to the season. Despite missing what felt like a boatload of second free throw attempts, Florida actually shot adequately from the charity stripe going 31-38, a number that helped salvage the game. You need to learn to win ugly, and even though the ball wasn’t falling at the normal rate (they were 32.1% from the field) the Gators were able to find a way to win.
What a team does after key players get in foul trouble tells a lot about their depth and shows who the coaching staff trusts. When Chris Chiozza picked up his third foul early, Coach White went to junior KeVaughn Allen instead of freshman Michael Okauru to man the helm at point guard. With only two games under Okauru’s belt so far in his career there might not be anything to read in to here, but this also could be an indication we’ll see more of Allen at point guard this season and maybe even in a year when Chiozza has graduated. Keith Stone also struggled with fouls, a concern I had prior to the game due to the concentrated effort New Hampshire makes to post up. This meant more minutes for Kevarrius Hayes, who played a robust 32 minutes.
Jalen Hudson has the ability to heat up at any moment, and they needed that from him tonight. When the game got close the veteran Hudson used his slippery change of pace and gentle scoring touch to get 26 points, many of them in clutch time when Florida desperately needed a bucket to stop a run. He also responded to Coach White’s challenge to rebound the ball better, grabbing 7 misses. There isn’t much more you could ask from a 6th man, and he’ll be an incredibly important part of the Gators’ rotation the entire season.
One glaring stat from tonight’s box score was the assist number. After playing extremely unselfish basketball to start the year, Florida only had 3 assists tonight. In a lot of ways this has more to do with poor shooting then playmaking, but you’d hope there would be some easy drop off passes for dunks in the half court, or hit ahead passes for layups in transition. With the unselfishness and offensive creativity shown in the first two games I don’t think it will be a concern, but this stat was too interesting not to point out.
Everything for New Hampshire went through senior Tanner Leissner. Finishing with 23 points he was incredibly dangerous down low, both finishing around the hoop and finding teammates for open looks. You don’t see too many teams featuring their offense around a big man, so this should be a great learning experience for the Gators.
The pride that Kevarrius Hayes takes in defending is instantly noticeable when you watch him play and tonight his hustle, defensive IQ, and expansive length was on full display. With an outstanding 5 blocks and 3 steals, he was the anchor defensively that the Gators needed. His dedication to locking down the opposition is sure to inspire his teammates, and his hard work could be the difference in many tight games this season.
A little bit of early season adversity can be a good for a team, and we’ll get to see how Florida bounces back from a lackluster effort when they head to Portland to play in the illustrious PK80 Tournament.
What did you think of the performance tonight? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums.