DALLAS — Not only was Florida guard Jalen Hudson coming off one of his quietest games of the season, but his offensive funk had seemingly carried over into the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.
After scoring just 6 points on 2-of-9 shooting in the Gators’ quick SEC Tournament exit, Hudson went 1 for 6 in the first half of this one against St. Bonaventure while clanking all five of his 3-point attempts.
Nonetheless, he was unfazed.
“I really don’t feel too much pressure, not when I’m shooting at least,” Hudson said afterward. “I mean, I felt good either way. I was shooting it the same way — sometimes they don’t fall.”
And sometime they do.
Hudson went on to score 14 of his 16 points after halftime Thursday night while helping to key No. 6-seed Florida’s 77-62 win over No. 11 St. Bonaventure inside American Airlines Center.
He hit 5 of 8 shots in the second half, including 2 3s and a monstrous put-back dunk that effectively punctuated the Gators’ dominant close to their NCAA tourney opener.
“It’s not all about me, honestly,” Hudson said, taking performance in stride. “Other guys were hitting shots, giving me confidence, coach was giving me confidence. I just wanted to stay in the game and do other things, and eventually the shot fell and I felt comfortable after that.”
Hudson’s late flourish helped take the suspense out of this game, and it can only be viewed as an encouraging sign for the Gators moving forward.
Florida is 14-4 when the junior guard scores at least 15 points and 1-6 when he scores in single digits.
“We know he can score. I told him at halftime, just keep attacking. He’s a natural scorer. That’s what he does,” teammate Egor Koulechov said.
Said point guard Chris Chiozza: “He’s got that ability. He could miss 30 shots in a row, he doesn’t have a conscience — he’s going to shoot 30 more and he might make all 30. We’re going to tell him to shoot it any time he’s open, any time he wants to shoot it we’re not going to say nothing to him. He’s just one of those guys that can put the ball in the basket at any time in a lot of different ways. He’s just gifted. When you’ve got guys like that, you just let them do what they do.”
Hudson scored his first points of the second half on a layup with 12:24 remaining, and he got hot in a hurry. Soon came a 3-pointer, a layup and that putback dunk and ensuing free throw.
The soaring dunk came off a missed Chiozza 3-pointer and pushed the lead to 56-37 with 8:07 left to play. It was the singular play that best encapsulated the tenor of the game as Florida made sure St. Bonaventure would have no chance to threatening an upset.
“I was kind of shocked. I couldn’t believe he made it. He got up over his own teammates, the other team. I thought his head was over the rim,” Chiozza said.
Said Koulechov: “That one play he made, my mind was kind of just like, ‘Wow.’”
Hudson’s reaction was much more subdued. Just like he didn’t feel any mounting pressure during his shooting struggles, he didn’t feel the need to indulge his strong finish Thursday either.
“I just tried to put it back in the basket, that’s pretty much it,” Hudson said.
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