Hayes leads smothering defense as Florida beats FGCU 77-56
By STEVEN WINE
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jalen Hudson's faith in his shot was finally rewarded, and his regained touch paid off Saturday for the Florida Gators.
The senior guard snapped a season-long slump by sinking three consecutive 3-pointers during a 2 1/2-minute span midway through the first half, and the Gators went on to beat Florida Gulf Coast 77-56 Saturday in the Orange Bowl Classic.
Hudson, the Gators' leading scorer last season, came into the game shooting 29 percent, including 6 for 34 from 3-point range.
He finished 4 for 9 beyond the arc and scored 14 points.
"I tried to shoot it with confidence," Hudson said. "If I was shooting it without confidence, I knew it wasn't going to go in."
Noah Locke had 15 points in 21 minutes for the Gators (7-4), who won for the fourth time in their past five games. Kevarrius Hayes had 12 points without a miss, blocked three shots and had a team-high seven rebounds.
No. 11 Florida State beat Saint Louis 81-59 in the first game of the one-day event.
Hudson's shooting spurt gave Florida a 23-8 lead midway through the first half.
"I'm happy for the team, but I'm very happy for him," coach Mike White said. "It has been a little difficult for him. He's a really talented offensive player. We knew at some point he was going to break out."
The Gators forced 22 turnovers and held Florida Gulf Coast to 39 percent shooting, including 2 for 14 from 3-point range. But Hudson said the Gators are capable of more defensively.
"We had a couple of lapses," he said, before turning to White. "What would you say - a B? C-plus? We've got room to improve."
White nodded, but praised the defensive effort to start the second half, when his team went on a 12-1 run for a 49-27 advantage.
"We came out salivating early in the second half," White said.
The Gators, who improved to 5-0 against Florida Gulf Coast, haven't allowed 70 points since a season-opening loss at Florida State.
FGCU (5-9) had a three-game winning streak snapped. Reserve Troy Baxter Jr. had 13 points and seven rebounds to lead the Eagles.
The Eagles' point total matched their season low, and their turnover total was a season high. The Gators had a 34-11 advantage in points off turnovers.
Coach Michael Fry blamed his team's offensive execution.
"There were plays where we had guys open and took an extra dribble," he said. "I thought we were a little tentative."
White collapsed to the court during play with five minutes left in the first half but quickly rose.
"I assume I'm really dehydrated," he said. "I knocked down some water pretty quickly, a lot of it, and felt better after a few minutes. It's nothing."
The Gators' record might be misleading because their nonconference schedule has been rated the toughest among Southeastern Conference teams.
Following a Christmas break, the Gators play only their fifth game in December when they host Butler on Saturday.
FGCU plays at Mississippi on Saturday.
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Updated December 22, 2018