NCAA Tournament games aren’t always pretty and tonight the Gators went into the trenches to beat a scrappy St. Bonaventure team 77-62. Though the Gators went on a murderous run in the second half that ultimately stretched the game out of hand the first half was an evenly played game that saw the Gators struggle to score against a rapidly shifting zone defense the Bonnies deployed effectively. Ultimately able to hit enough shots to stretch out the defense that stymied them most of the first half the Gators pulled away and never let up. Pegged by many national analysts as upset fodder, the Gators instead took care of business as the high seed and now look ahead to the round of 32.
Egor Koulechov’s ability to catch and shoot was on display as he finished the game with 20 points leading the way for the Gators. Many of his baskets were from him punishing the zone from the corner or curling off screens and those shots are necessary to making Florida’s offense hum. Offensive rhythm was tough to come by tonight but the timely shot making from Koulechov was definitely instrumental to Florida’s success.
Doing It On D
This game was won on the defensive side of the floor as the Gators limited the Bonnies to 35.4% from the field with 17 turnovers. A team known to do most of it’s damage from behind the arc the Bonnies were frustrated by the Gators constantly tagging shooters and forcing tough looks and it lead to them only shooting 3-19 (15.8%) from deep. For the Gators to make a run this is the defense they’ll need and it was encouraging to see it tonight.
Spreading It Out
Distributing the ball at an elite level Chris Chiozza finished the contest with an incredible 11 assists and 0 turnovers. Against a St. Bonaventure defense designed to confuse and frustrate guards he was able to find seams to drive and lanes to pass through it was the only way the Gators were able to solve it. Senior guards win you games in March and we saw that tonight with Cheese.
The Gators 10-point run early in the second half. It was a nervous first frame for both teams that saw only a 5-point disparity at the half but a barrage of shots from Jalen Hudson and Egor Koulechov was a punch to the gut the Bonnies couldn’t answer.
Highlight Of The Night
Jalen Hudson souring in to slam home a Chris Chiozza missed three-pointer. With the Gators up handily in the second half the Bonnies were forced to go to a trapping 1-3-1 zone to try and get some steals and fight their way back into the game. This zone made it so that there were no clear box out responsibilities on rebounds and it allowed Jalen Hudson to go unmarked on his way to the hoop, reading Chiozza’s miss and catching it at the peak of his jump before slamming it down with two hands while taking contact for a foul. We saw the best and the worst of Jalen Hudson today with his cold first half shooting and spectacular second half drives but the biggest takeaway from his game tonight will be that majestic dunk.
Michael Okauru taking a shot to the back of the head from a St. Bonaventure knee. Head injuries have devastated the Gators this season and we will anxiously await the results of his concussion protocol. Okauru had an incredibly useful tonight game off the bench with 7 points in 7 minutes while providing top quality defense and I wish him all the best. Updates to come, I’m sure.
With the shot clock turned off and the game all but over Deaundrae Ballard got a steal and went in for a fast break. Coach Mike White was screaming at him from the bench to pull the ball out to dribble down the clock but he never heard as he made his way to the rim for a flush. Though the Bonnies never retaliated, pulling that move with that time and score is generally considered against the unwritten rules of basketball and I don’t think we’ll see that from Ballard again in the future.
What’s Up Next
Florida get’s to take on former Gator Brandone Francis and the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday. The start time hasn’t been announced yet at the time of me writing this but it very well could be by the time you read this. Texas Tech is a tough-minded defensive team with tons of veteran players and this is certain to be a battle.
Final Words For St. Bonaventure
Making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team is tougher now than it has ever been and the Bonnies put together a great season that should be commended. Furthering their case was a victory over UCLA in the play-in game that shows they are a team capable of hanging with high major talent. Congrats to them on a great season.