NEW YORK — KeVaughn Allen doesn’t seem to like attention much, even when it has been well earned.
Allen, Florida’s standout sophomore guard, poured in a career-high 35 points in the Gators’ 84-83 overtime win over Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
It was a superlative performance on a significant stage. Allen would have been the story of the night if not for teammate Chris Chiozza’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
But Allen seemed OK with that, offering a few short answers during the postgame news conference and then disappearing. While his Florida teammates sat around the locker room recounting their momentous win, Allen went straight to a back room and was not available for any more questions.
On Saturday, as Florida brought five players to the dais for another media session looking ahead to the Elite Eight matchup against South Carolina, the guy who had just set the program record for points in an NCAA Tournament game wasn’t among them.
Allen was back in the locker room this time, though, and agreed to speak about his superlative performance.
“It feels good just to finally see shots fall,” he said simply. “I think just to keep shooting it and me putting arc on my shot, I think that helped a little bit.”
Allen always is efficient with his words, but his offensive efficiency had been way off the norm since this NCAA Tournament began.
At one point Friday night after another rough start, he was 5-of-31 shooting overall in the tournament and 1-for-17 from 3-point range. He was as cold as a shooter could be.
And then suddenly he couldn’t miss.
“I don’t think I lost confidence. I think coach [Mike] White did a good job just of telling me to stay aggressive out there, just to keep shooting it,” Allen said.
He did that, finishing with career highs for shot attempts (24) and made field goals (11) as well as points.
White joked that the coaches have told Allen in the past that he would be suspended if he stopped shooting. In all seriousness, though, White and Florida teammates have had to consistently stay on Allen the last two years to remain aggressive.
They know he’s their best overall offensive player. When he’s in a rhythm, the Gators are a different team.
So while Chiozza’s game-winner was the highlight generating national buzz, Allen’s resurgence was the most significant development for the Gators and their potential the rest of this tournament.
“I’m so proud of him. [Friday] he showed toughness — whether they went in or not. He didn’t shy away from the limelight. He didn’t become passive and lose any confidence level. He continued to stay aggressive, and he had that stretch in the second half he was amazing,” White said. “But to be that aggressive after the first couple rounds is pretty impressive. I think he showed that laser focus and more of a mature mentality that he’s going to shoot his way out of it. The law of averages kicked in, of course.”
Amazing is right. At one point, Allen went 8 consecutive shots without missing. He also went 9 of 10 from the foul line in a game in which every point mattered.
Florida was battling back from an 11-point first-half deficit when Allen started to find his shot. He scored the Gators’ final 9 points of the half, sinking a 3-pointer and twice getting Wisconsin defenders in the air to draw a foul from beyond the perimeter while making each of those free throws.
And once he found that rhythm, he kept shooting.
He had promised throughout the week that he would stay aggressive despite his slump. His teammates said they were confident a breakout was coming. Heck, even Florida football coach Jim McElwain predicted it.
But to see Allen at the top of his game when it mattered most was nonetheless a welcomed relief for he and the Gators.
“I feel like he really needed this one,” teammate Devin Robinson said. “I knew it was coming soon. He needed this one to get under his belt. He got his confidence a little more than before. Now his confidence is super high. Now he can come out here and finish what we started.”