It started with thunder.
It started when Florida won the opening tip and guard Jalen Hudson took the ball up the court. He tossed it toward the hoop, where guard KeVaughn Allen grabbed it, palmed it and powered it through the rim. The dunk ignited the crowd and gave the Gators momentum early. But they wasted it.
They allowed the visiting Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs to take a one-point lead early in the first half. Then the lightning followed the thunder, and the lightning had a name: Egor Koulechov.
The Rice University transfer hit a three pointer to regain the lead for UF, holding three fingers in the air as he jogged back on defense. And in No. 8 Florida’s 116-74 beatdown of Gardner-Webb on Monday night, that became common.
“He’s a really good shooter,” coach Mike White said. “He did some other good things as well.”
Koulechov led his team with 34 points after averaging 18.2 per game last season at Rice. Once that first three went in to give the Gators a 16-14 lead, the Runnin’ Bulldogs didn’t have an answer for the 6-foot-5 guard. He finished with six threes. The most any Florida player finished with in any game last season was five.
His 34 points also tied the record for most points in a Florida debut.
“I’ve been waiting for this since I decided to come here,” Koulechov said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m not gonna lie, this is probably the craziest place I’ve played.”
Other newcomers also contributed to the victory, led by Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Hudson. His 16 points were second-most on the team. Freshmen Deaundrae Ballard (14) and Michael Okauru (13) completed UF’s double-figure scorers.
“With Deaundrae, I’m not really surprised,” Okauru said. “He’s a scorer. That’s what he does. With myself, I mean, there were open spots. I just took ‘em.”
Even the team’s two walk-ons got into the game late. Mak Krause and Andrew Fava were just added to the roster about a week ago, but both peeled off their long-sleeved warm-up shirts late in the second half with the Rowdy Reptiles chanting their names and erupting when White brought them in.
One missing piece in all those names is senior point guard Chris Chiozza, the hero of last season’s Sweet Sixteen whose shot sent the Gators to the Elite Eight. He exited the game in the second half and fled to the locker room. He emerged before the game was over and rode the bench the rest of the way, finishing with six rebounds, six assists and five points in 23 minutes.
White said Chiozza should be fine heading into a weekend slate of home games, starting with North Florida this Thursday.