GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After New Hampshire took a one-point lead midway through the second half, Florida’s Jalen Hudson decided to take command of the game.
With a head full of steam, Hudson charged down the court and let off a one-handed dunk.
Two possessions later, Hudson took a pass from KeVaughn Allen, was fouled as he drove to the rim and sank both of his free throws.
One possession after that, Hudson took a pass from Egor Koulechov and sank a three-point basket from the left side before sinking another pair of free throws a couple possessions later.
Hudson’s 9-point flurry was a sigh of relief and a rallying point after the Gators struggled to move the ball early.
No, Sunday wasn’t the offensive onslaught the Florida basketball team put on during the first two games of the season by any sense of the imagination.
But behind 26 points from Hudson, 14 from Koulechov and 12 more from Chris Chiozza, the No. 8 Gators defeated New Hampshire 70-63 on Sunday to improve to 3-0 on the season.
“His 26 seemed like a loud 26,” coach Mike White said. “He really took over the game offensively for us.”
It was Florida’s first real test of the season after putting up blowout victories by scores of 116-74 and 108-68 to open the year.
And now, the Gators’ season is about to ramp up even more.
Florida heads to Portland, Ore., to play three games in four days as part of the Phil Knight Invitational. First up will be Stanford on Thursday with the possibility of playing No. 17 Gonzaga on Friday and No. 1 Duke on Sunday if the cards are played out right.
Not only will the competition be stout, but Florida will be playing away from its home court for the first time this season. The advantage of having close to 9,000 fans who pack the O’Connell Center every game will be non-existant.
Maybe a reality check like the New Hampshire game was just what they needed.
“We’ve got to get tougher,” White said. “Our attention to detail and our focus, especially defensively, has a ways to go. … We were probably a little overly comfortable heading into this one. We were feeling ourselves a little bit. So hopefully this will be good for us.”
But back to Sunday for a minute.
After making 55.4-percent of their shots and averaging 13 3-point shots through the first two games of the season, Florida was just 32.1-percent from the field and made just 3 of 18 from beyond the arc. The Gators missed eight straight shots to close out the first half and went into the locker room tied at 32.
The Gators’ largest lead of the game was just 8 points early in the second half, but that lead quickly vanished when New Hampshire rattled off a 16-7 run and Florida missed six straight shots.
Then, Hudson made his presence known, scoring Florida’s next nine points to give them the lead for good. Hudson scored 22 of his 26 points in the second half and he scored 17 of the Gators’ final 22 points.
“We needed that,” Koulechov said. “We needed someone to give us a spark. Like I said before, it could be anybody in any given game. Tonight, I thought Jalen gave us a big boost, made some big plays.”
New Hampshire continued to rally, but Florida’s lead never vanquished.
And with a tough slate ahead next weekend, Florida showed it has the capability of winning the close games.
“It’s kind of like a slap in the face, that we’re not as good as we think we are,” Hudson said. “We’re nowhere near where we should be. … I’m glad we had that now because we’re about to head out to Portland and there’s going to be some real competition there.”