Fastbreak: Florida blasts St. Bonaventure to open 2018 NCAA Tournament

By Adam Silverstein
March 16, 2018
Fastbreak: Florida blasts St. Bonaventure to open 2018 NCAA Tournament

Image Credit: ESPN Images

While the start of the game was another one to forget, six-seed Florida Gators basketball (21-12) thoroughly dominated the 11-seed St. Bonaventure Bonnies (25-8) late Thursday night to open the 2018 NCAA Tournament in Dallas. Thanks to tremendous effort out of halftime, Florida blasted St. Bonaventure 77-62, improving to 14-4 all-time in first-round tourney matchups.

Let’s take a look at Thursday’s big-time win in Fastbreak:

It was over when … The Gators scored 15 straight points spanning halftime but saw the Bonnies cut into their double-digit lead. But UF would not be denied, exploding on a 10-2 run stamped by a tremendous follow slam by redshirt junior guard Jalen Hudson to go up 20, a lead it increased to a game-high 23 with seven minutes to play.

First half focus: Florida led 20-9 midway through the first half and then went ice cold, missing 11 straight shots while turning the ball over three times as St. Bonaventure pieced together a 13-1 stretch to take a 22-21 lead. The Gators were scoreless for six minutes and went 7:42 without a field goal before hitting consecutive threes to end the half. In all, UF went 2-for-16 from the floor headed into the break, scoring just seven points over the final 10:30 as the teams combined to make just 15-of-54 shots in the first 20 minutes.

Exceptional efforts: Graduate transfer G Egor Koulechov was the unexpected straw that stirred the Gators’ drink on Thursday, exploding for a game-high 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting (4-of-10 from three) with six rebounds. Koulechov did most of his scoring in the first half, saving Florida from facing a deficit entering halftime as its other starters were completely absent from the stat sheet. Hudson stepped up in the second half to put St. Bonaventure away, scoring 13 of his 15 points despite going just 2-for-8 from long range. Senior point guard Chris Chiozza contributed a game-high 11 assists and a highlight fastbreak layup.

Important injury: Freshman G Mike Okauru was kneed in the back of the head with less than two minutes to play. After laying prone on the hardwood for a minute, he was helped off the court by a trainer holding the back of his head.

Odds and ends: Before garbage time fouls were called, St. Bonaventure had outshot Florida at the line 33-9 but trailed by 17 at the time … Chiozza, Hudson and junior G KeVaughn Allen combined for two points on 0-for-10 shooting from three in the first half … the Gators outscored the Bonnies off turnovers (25-15), on second chances (11-5), from the bench (24-20), in the paint (32-22) and on fastbreaks (24-10) … UF had 19 assists on 27 made baskets … the Gators led for 33:58 of the 40-minute game

What it means: Florida improved to 14-4 all-time in first-round NCAA Tournament matchups (43-16 overall) and will advance at least to the Round of 32 for its sixth straight tournament appearance. The Gators have moved on to the Elite Eight in each of its prior five appearances but will have to get past a tough opponent in its next game. UF played one of its worst halves of the season in the first 20 minutes but closed it out strong with six straight points and started the second half in kind. The ability to shake off a putrid stretch like the Gators did is a talent they have not possessed this season.

Up next: Florida advances to face (3) Texas Tech on Saturday in Dallas at 8:40 p.m. ET on TNT. The Gators are 2-0 all-time against the Red Raiders but will likely be underdogs. Texas Tech will be playing its Round of 32 game just five hours away from campus, so it will surely be a de facto home game for the Lone Star State team.

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