The fact that the Gators hammered Jacksonville 89-65 to start Mike White’s first season 8-3 is a nice sentence to read given the team’s unfathomable struggles a year ago. But it’s the second most important stat on this night.
The first? One-armed guard Zach Hodskins scoring the first points of his collegiate career.
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) December 23, 2015
A moment he’ll never forget, to be sure.
Born without a left hand and forearm, Hodskins learned how to play basketball with just one arm, and developed into a legitimate scoring threat in high school. After watching a number of highlight films and then watching him in person, then-coach Billy Donovan offered Hodskins a walk-on spot on Florida’s roster. As anybody else in his shoes would do, Hodskins committed to the Gators in October of 2013 as a preferred walk-on. Obviously.
But while the story logically should have ended there, Hodskins dared defy the limitations of logic. Since his arrival, Florida has blown out its fair share of opponents. On some of these occasions, Hodskins found himself in the game. And every now and then, he’d get to put up a shot. Unfortunately, he’s never made one of them.
The O’Dome’s reaction to Hodskins’ bucket was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Not even the injured Adam Allen’s triumphant return to the court in the SEC Championship clinching 78-51 blowout of Alabama five years ago drew a cheer this loud. And though Hodskins, who was fouled on the drive, missed the ensuing free throw, he’d made himself a memory he’d never forget.
The game itself was almost an afterthought. To its credit, Jacksonville actually hung tough for awhile. The Gators would make a run, but the Dolphins would fight back and chip into the deficit, getting as close as 42-37 early in the second half. But Kasey Hill then got fouled and made both free throws to push it back up to seven. That kick-started a 25-5 Gator run (featuring a pair of Dorian Finney-Smith threes) that knocked the Dolphins down for the count. Jacksonville never finding an answer for KeVaughn Allen or John Egbunu (29 combined points) probably didn’t help their cause, either. Or to be even more blunt, Jacksonville never had an answer for anything Florida did offensively. Hence the blowout.
Up next? A date with old rival FSU in Gainesville next Tuesday. Florida’s clicking offensively now, a sentence I can write with more confidence after back to back strong showings against Oklahoma State and Jacksonville as opposed to just one against a lower level Jacksonville team. The Gators already have the defense needed to play with anybody in the country. It’s just a matter of doing what they have to do on offense that will ultimately determine this team’s fate.