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Florida holds off LSU, 83-79

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
Florida sophomore guard Scottie Lewis shoots over LSU defender Josh LeBlanc Sr. (11) during Saturday's game at Exactech Arena.
Florida forward Colin Castleton shoots and is fouled Saturday against LSU at Exactech Arena. Castleton finished with 21 points.

Four days after tallying a career-high 23 points in Florida’s victory at Vanderbilt, Colin Castleton continued his hot stretch by scoring 21 points in just 19 minutes while sophomore point guard Tre Mann added 19 points and the Gators defeated LSU, 83-79, on Saturday at Exactech Arena. 

“We’ve got a ways to go, but the adversity that these guys have faced. To be sitting here 2-0 having beat two good teams,” UF coach Mike White said, “it’s just huge. Our guys have played with a ton of heart. It’s the epitome of resolve and overcoming adversity and staying together and moving forward. Our guys have shown a ton of mental toughness, I’m very proud of them.”

Up next

Who: Florida at Alabama

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Florida trailed by as many as five points midway through the first 20 minutes of play before Anthony Duruji’s 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer pulled the Gators even with the Tigers at 40-all.

The start of the second half was the Castleton show. The transfer from Michigan scored Florida’s first 15 points of the second half, as UF (5-1, 2-0 SEC) slowly turned a deficit into a double-digit lead. 

A putback by Duruji, who finished with a season-high 16 points and seven rebounds in his second start, just before the under-eight-minute timeout gave UF a 67-57 lead.

LSU (6-2, 1-1) attempted to rally and retake the lead, but each time the Gators withstood multiple attempts by the Tigers to cut the lead to one-possession, as Florida held on to stay undefeated in conference play. It was closer than it should have been, too. 

UF had multiple chances at the rim to take a 80-70 lead with less than two minutes to play, but couldn’t convert; instead the Tigers cut it to 78-74, leading White to call a timeout to regroup. 

Scottie Lewis, who scored 17 points in a game-high 39 minutes, would convert 5-of-6 free throw attempts down the stretch to help Florida secure the win. 

Florida will next head to Tuscaloosa for a 7 p.m. tipoff Tuesday with Alabama before returning to Gainesville to host Kentucky on Saturday at either 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. 

Castleton a legitimate post threat

Florida’s start to conference play has indicated the Gators have a force down low this season in Castleton. 

Castleton tallied a team-high 21 points, a figure made more impressive considering it came in just 19 minutes as he battled early foul trouble. The Daytona Beach native scored Florida’s first 15 points of the second half, helping UF turn a deadlock into a double-digit lead. 

“We’re still trying to figure out one another. Colin Castleton really is new to this,” White said. “We’ll continue to get better offensively.”

Castleton’s confidence brimming, he didn’t hesitate to show he was feeling himself throughout the afternoon — possibly a little too much. 

After a gimme-that block, Castleton was whistled for a technical foul for appearing to taunt Javonte Smart in some fashion — although Castleton said that wasn’t necessarily the case, unless you count making eye contact as an indiscretion.

“It was a glare. I blocked the shot and turned over to him and I stared him down,” Castleton said, “and they said I shouldn’t have stared him down. Just a little mistake.”

Coach Keyontae on the bench

Saturday marked UF’s first home game without Keyontae Johnson, but he was a visible presence throughout the afternoon. 

Johnson, dressed in UF’s black-and-blue team sweats with a blue surgical mask on his face, was animated throughout the afternoon in cheering on his teammates. 

When Florida huddled, Johnson could be spotted addressing the team passionately, too, furthering the belief he’s pseudo-coach for the Gators less than a month after collapsing at Florida State. 

“It felt great, I feel a lot better. I’m sure our staff does, and I’m sure our guys, too, with him being right there,” White said. “And he’s also a leader. He’s charismatic, he loves his teammates, so when he says something at timeouts or in huddles, it holds a lot of weight. He’s got ultimate respect from his teammates, and there’s no doubt he was a factor today.”

Mann bounces back

After his worst game as a sophomore in Florida’s SEC opener, point guard Tre Mann bounced back in impressive fashion Saturday, scoring 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting. The 6-foot-5 Gainesville native had a season-low nine points to go along with six turnovers against Vanderbilt, and Mann’s ability to revert to his prior form upon returning to his hometown impressed his head coach.

“He was a different guy from a confidence-level, but also from the aspect of how sound you are,” White said of Mann, “as opposed to being casual. I thought he was really sound with the basketball. When he had the basketball, I felt better. He had more command of what we were doing, he had two turnovers against a team that’s really handsy, really disruptive, and he was plus-nine, the highest plus/minus on the team.”

Florida 83, LSU 79

LSU (6-2, 1-1 SEC)

Days 1-5 0-1 2, Watford 7-18 5-7 21, Wilkinson 1-2 2-2 4, Smart 7-12 4-4 20, Thomas 7-19 11-11 28, Gaines 1-1 0-0 2, Manning 1-3 0-0 2, LeBlanc 0-0 0-0 0, Cook 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-60 22-25 79.

FLORIDA (5-1, 2-0)

Castleton 7-10 7-7 21, Duruji 6-12 2-2 16, Lewis 5-10 7-9 17, Locke 3-9 0-1 6, Mann 7-12 2-2 19, Appleby 1-3 0-0 2, Payne 0-1 2-2 2, Lane 0-1 0-0 0, Osifo 0-0 0-0 0, Ruzhentsev 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-58 20-23 83.

Halftime_40-40. 3-Point Goals_LSU 7-18 (Thomas 3-10, Watford 2-3, Smart 2-4, Days 0-1), Florida 5-21 (Mann 3-6, Duruji 2-5, Appleby 0-2, Lewis 0-3, Locke 0-5). Fouled Out_LeBlanc. Rebounds_LSU 27 (Watford 8), Florida 34 (Duruji 7). Assists_LSU 9 (Watford 3), Florida 9 (Appleby 5). Total Fouls_LSU 20, Florida 20.

Florida guard Tre Mann (1) drives the ball at the basket Saturday against LSU at Exactech Arena.
Florida juniorr Keyontae Johnson watches the game against LSU from the sidelines at Exactech Arena. Johnson is helping the Gators with assistant coach duties at practice and home game while he recovers from the Dec. 12 collapse at Florida State.