GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For much of the night, it seemed like everything that could go wrong did for Florida against plucky New Hampshire.
Jalen Hudson scored 26 points, and the 8th-ranked Gators escaped with a 70-63 win over the Wildcats on Sunday night.
“It’s kinda like a smack in the face,” Hudson said. “We were not as good as we think we are.”
The game wasn’t at all reminiscent of Florida’s first two wins this season, when the Gators exceeded 100 points in consecutive games for the first time in over a decade. Florida entered the contest leading the nation in points per game at 112.
It became clear early on that the Gators wouldn’t reach triple digits. Florida (3-0) shot 27.6 percent from the field in the first half, including 1-of-8 from 3-point range. The Gators weren’t that much better in the second half and finished with a shooting percentage of 32.1.
“The first two games weren’t very close,” said point guard Chris Chiozza, who scored 12 points. “And I’m not sure if we came in with the right mindset tonight, thinking it would be another game like that.”
The poor first-half shooting allowed New Hampshire (1-2) to tie the game at 32 with a desperation 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer. Tanner Leissner scored 23 points to lead the Wildcats, who managed 14 assists to Florida’s three.
“He’s gonna be one of the toughest covers for us all year,” Florida coach Mike White said of Leissner. “He is just a really good player.”
Chiozza got Florida off to a better start in the second half. He opened play with a floater, brought the ball back up the court after a defensive stop and hit a deep 3-pointer to put Florida up by five.
But the sluggishness returned.
It culminated in Florida losing the lead with under 10 minutes to play on a fall-back 3-pointer from John Ogwuche. On the next possession, Hudson slammed home an uncontested dunk to regain the lead and fire up the crowd. Florida never trailed again.
Hudson lifted his team with nine straight points late in the second half and scored 17 of the Gators’ final 22 points.
“In the end, the good offensive players will find ways,” guard Egor Koulechov said. “And Jalen did that for us today.”
Koulechov had 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting and 10 rebounds as Florida held on and improved to 4-0 all-time against New Hampshire.
With tougher competition looming, the Gators know there’s work to be done.
“I think we can learn from this,” Koulechov said. “We wanna win big every game, and sometimes, you’ve gotta grind it out.”
New Hampshire: The Wildcats have lost two straight, but the losses came against traditional powers Florida and Texas. The Wildcats have some less heralded competition coming up, which should provide the opportunity reboot before America East competition begins in January.
Florida: The Gators will face tougher competition this week at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Oregon.
BACK IN BUSINESS
After starting Thursday’s win over North Florida on the bench for missing an academic deadline, center Kevarrius Hayes was back in Florida’s starting lineup. He finished with six points and six rebounds.
New Hampshire heads home for a contest against winless American University on Tuesday. The Wildcats will then head to Nashville for a pair of neutral-site games against Furman and Utah State.
The Gators will play Stanford across the country in Portland, Oregon, on Thanksgiving in the first round of the Phil Knight Invitational. They’ll then play either Ohio State or Gonzaga on Friday and one more tournament game on Sunday before returning home and taking a week off.