GAINESVILLE | It was only one game, against an over-matched opponent and Thanksgiving is still more than two weeks away.

 

But there was no curbing the enthusiasm on Monday as the University of Florida unveiled its 2018-18 basketball team with a few veterans, more than a few new faces and perhaps the next crowd favorite of the Rowdy Reptiles.

Graduate transfer Egor Koulechov, a native of Volgograd, Russia, with a stop at Rice along the way, made 6 of 9 3-point attempts and scored 34 points to lead the Gators to a 116-74 victory over Gardner-Webb in front of 8,604 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center — the most points the Gators have ever scored to lift off a season.

The previous high was 112 against Montana State in 2002. The Gators have won 27 opening games in a row and haven’t lost a home opener since 1983.

Koulechov, a 6-foot-5 guard, matched the most points scored by a first-year Florida player on opening night and had the second-most points to open a season in school history. Tom Baxley had 34 points against Miami on Dec. 1, 1962 in his first game in a UF uniform. The school record is 37 by Neal Walk on Dec. 1, 1967 against Jacksonville, when he was a senior.

Koulechov also broke the UF opening-night record for the most 3-point shots. Greg Stolt made four on Nov. 24, 1995 against Charleson Southern.

Florida, which lost four starters from last year’s NCAA Elite Eight team, trailed twice early in the first half, then rode the hot hand of Koulechov on a 30-7 run that turned a 12-10 deficit into a 40-19 lead with 5:49 left in the half.

Koulechov missed four of his first five shots, but then made seven of his next eight attempts, five of them on 3-pointers. He made 11 of 17 shots overall, added five rebounds and five assist and for at least one night earned the nickname hung on him at Rice: “3Gor.”

Florida coach Mike White touched on Koulechov’s versaility.

“He’s terrific. He went 6 of 9 on threes but he did some other good things,” White said. “He’s a great shooter but he’s really sound defensively.”

Florida point guard Chris Chiozza said he made it his mission to get Koulechov the ball once he caught fire.

“I wanted him to catch the ball every time when he has hot like that,” Chiozza said. “I was looking for him every time. He shot it and everyone knew it was going in.”

Koulechov appreciated his teammates’ patience when he missed early.

“I missed a few but just kept shooting,” Koulechov said. “I saw the ball go in one time and then I took what the game gave me. The guys are really unselfish, always looking for the open man.”

He also said the crowd, especially the student section, pumped him up even more.

“It was a lot of fun … the craziest place I’ve played where the crowd is into it,” he said.

The Gators had streaks of 11 and 13 points in a row and built a 55-32 halftime lead over the Bulldogs, a member of the Big South Conference.

Junior guard Jalen Hudson, a Virginia Tech transfer, had 16 points and three assists for UF. Two freshman guards also cracked double figures, Deaundrae Ballard with 14 points and Mike Okauru with 13. Florida shot 58 percent as a team (52 percent from the 3-point arc) and had only eight turnovers.

Gardner-Webb (0-2), which was 19-14 last season in the Big South Conference, was led by D.J. Laster of Pensacola with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Jaheam Cornwall added 18 points.

Florida will play host to the University of North Florida on Thursday at 7 p.m.