Florida survives for season-opening win over Army

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
Army's Josh Caldwell, left, and Florida's Keyontae Johnson fight for possession of the ball in the second half Wednesday in Uncasville, Conn.

It looked shaky early, but Florida’s season-opener Wednesday ended with plenty of promise, particularly in the backcourt.

Tre Mann scored a career-high 19 points in just 21 minutes and reserve guard Tyree Appleby provided 15 points and plenty of juice off the bench as the Gators men’s basketball team rallied from an early double-digit deficit to defeat Army, 76-69 at Bubbleville at the Mohegan Sun casino and resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. 

“We needed stops late in the game,” Mann said, “and I feel like we got those stops when we needed them.” 

Florida fell into an early 27-15 hole, improved slightly but would trail 39-31 at the halftime break. 

UF would come out of the second half on a 12-3 run to take lead 43-42, giving the Gators their first lead of the game, and the teams would trade the lead several times before Florida, trailing 69-67 with 2:45 remaining, closed the game on a 9-0 run — all at the free-throw line. 

Keyontae Johnson, the SEC’s preseason Player of the Year, scored 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting despite dealing with foul trouble throughout the second half. 

Florida has a quick turnaround. It remains at Bubbleville overnight and will take on Boston College at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. 

What we learned:

The hype behind Colin Castleton seems to be legitimate. The Michigan transfer started ahead of sophomore Omar Payne and scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting while hauling in a game-high-tying eight rebounds, although Payne would do his damage late in the contest. 

Coach Mike White praised Castleton’s work ethic and fundamentals during preseason camp, and it was clear as to why. He consistently stayed in front of his defender, stayed out of foul trouble and didn’t necessarily look like a fresh face on the offensive end. 

White praised both frontcourt presences after the game for their late-game performances. 

“I thought we protected the rim a few times, we cleaned up some mistakes,” White said. “Omar Payne I thought did a good job of that on a few possessions where a couple perimeter guys don’t execute perfectly defensively, and he was there to clean up a team mistake.” 

Appleby’s second half key for Gators' comeback

After coming off the bench and being a non-factor on the scoreboard in the first half, UF guard Tyree Appleby was critical down the stretch in securing the comeback win. 

The transfer from Cleveland State scored all 15 of his points in the second half to help UF turn the tide and outscore Army by 15 in the second half. 

“Probably getting to the foul line and converting at the foul line was the biggest positive,” White said, “along with Tre and Tyree stepping up and making some big shots for us.”

Press defense needs work

UF’s early 27-15 deficit wasn’t all Florida’s doing, or lack thereof, and White made sure to give Army its due after the game. 

But much of Florida’s improvement in the final two-thirds of the contest can be attributed to the Gators easing up on the press defense after it was practically ineffective when it came to slowing down the Black Knights (3-1). Although it’s been just one game, in a peculiar year to say the least, White acknowledged the team’s defensive press is nowhere near it needs to be. 

“We were stubborn early, because as we’ve all talked about, we’re convicted to do it,” White said. “We found out a little bit tonight we’re obviously not ready to press at this moment for 40 minutes, especially against a team like this. We’ll continue to evaluate game to game. I think our wind and conditioning has something to do with it, especially versus a team that is in unbelievable condition, a team that plays downhill defensively, off of misses or makes, and they exposed us. Our urgency wasn’t what it needed to be.” 

Florida guard Tre Mann shoots as Army's Jalen Rucker, left, defends in the first half Wednesday in Uncasville, Conn.

Florida 76, Army 69

ARMY (3-1)

King 3-6 1-2 9, Caldwell 4-9 4-6 12, Grayson 4-13 2-2 13, Rucker 4-12 2-2 12, Peterson 2-4 0-4 4, Finke 2-2 0-1 4, Cross 3-6 0-0 9, Duhart 1-2 0-0 2, Blackwell 1-2 2-2 4. Totals 24-56 11-19 69.


Castleton 3-4 3-4 9, K.Johnson 6-10 3-6 16, Lewis 2-3 4-5 8, Locke 2-8 2-2 7, T.Mann 6-13 6-8 19, Appleby 4-6 6-7 15, Payne 1-1 0-2 2, Duruji 0-3 0-2 0, Ruzhentsev 0-1 0-0 0, Glover 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 24-36 76.

Halftime_Army 39-31. 3-Point Goals_Army 10-24 (Cross 3-6, Grayson 3-8, King 2-4, Rucker 2-4, Caldwell 0-2), Florida 4-15 (T.Mann 1-2, Appleby 1-3, K.Johnson 1-3, Locke 1-3, Glover 0-1, Ruzhentsev 0-1, Duruji 0-2). Fouled Out_King, Peterson. Rebounds_Army 29 (Grayson 8), Florida 31 (Castleton 8). Assists_Army 15 (Rucker 6), Florida 10 (T.Mann 4). Total Fouls_Army 27, Florida 22.

Up next

What: Basketball Hall of Fame's Bubbleville

Who: Florida (1-0) vs. Boston College (1-3)

When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday 

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850