Florida picks up much-needed win, rallies past Ole Miss
It may have looked tenuous down the stretch, but the Florida men's basketball team rallied in impressive fashion from a late nine-point deficit to down Ole Miss, 72-63, Tuesday night in the Exactech Arena behind a 21-point, 10-rebound performance by junior forward Colin Castleton.
Castleton also would finish the game with eight blocks, the most in O-Dome history and the most blocks by a Gator in an SEC game in the program’s history.
UF led 24-13 early before Ole Miss rallied and cut the deficit to 33-31 heading into the halftime break, and the Rebels continued to be the hotter team coming out of the locker room at the break.
Ole Miss (6-5, 1-3 SEC) led 61-52 with 6:28 to play, and it looked as if the Gators were headed for a third consecutive loss after starting SEC play with two victories.
But Florida (6-3, 3-2) wouldn’t fold — quite the contrary.
Who: Florida (6-3, 3-2) at Mississippi State (8-4, 3-1)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
The Gators outscored the Rebels, 20-2, the rest of the way including the last 14 points of the game, with a 3-pointer in transition by Noah Locke and two technical foul free throws by Tre Mann helping secure the victory.
“Just played with a ton of resilience,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Stops down the stretch, discipline without fouling. Got to the foul line and converted. We found a way. I thought we defended at a high level.”
The Rebels missed their last eight shots from the field.
The Gators were without starting sophomore wing Scottie Lewis, who along with walk-on Alex Klatsky missed the contest due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. In Lewis’ absence, Locke returned to the starting line-up after playing a reserve role in UF’s 18-point loss Saturday to Kentucky.
Locke finished with 15 points and four rebounds in 38 minutes, while Mann finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.
What we learned
Tuesday’s showing proved Castleton’s first SEC appearances were no fluke.
After tallying 44 points across his first two conference performances, including a career-high 23 points against Vanderbilt, Castleton scored 20 or more points for the third time in just his fifth league game.
He added 10 rebounds to complete the double-double and was just two blocks shy of a triple-double, drawing praise from his head coach. Castleton’s eight blocks were the second-most in a game in UF program history, behind Dwayne Davis’ nine, and his swat total was the most by a Gator since Al Horford registered seven against the Rebels on Feb. 16, 2005.
Given a chance to take some credit for Castleton’s strong showing against his alma mater, White wouldn’t bite, saying the former Michigan transfer deserved all the praise.
“Nothing, no credit from (me) at all,” White said. “I thought he really got himself going on the offensive glass. Just the activity that he played with, offensively and defensively, was just high-level.”
With his 7-foot-3 wingspan, Castleton may have an easier time than most when it comes to contesting shots at the rim, but that’s only one aspect — effort plays as significant of a role, which Castleton felt was an overarching theme of Tuesday’s contest.
“We were in a timeout and Coach White said we have to dig in, we have to figure out what to do to win this game, we’re not losing this game no matter what, we’re not losing this game,” Castleton said. “We just stuck together the rest of the game, did what we needed to do, got some stops and hit some shots.”
As requested by his head coach, sophomore starting point guard Tre Mann took the next step in his progression Tuesday in continuing to battle through adversity. Mann registered 17 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three assists to go along with just one turnover in 28 minutes of play. He’d finish with a game-high plus-15, too, drawing praise from White after the game.
“He’s growing. He’s just so much more poised than he was a season ago,” White said. “He just kept plugging. I liked his body language, which has improved. He’s showing some of that mental toughness that we’ve talked a bunch about here.”
It didn’t come easy either for Mann, who required some mental toughness in the literal sense, too.
The Gainesville native needed several stitches above his left eye in order to finish the second half after taking an inadvertent elbow.
Nevertheless, it didn’t stop him from contributing to Florida’s comeback charge.
“I got an elbow the last five minutes of the game,” he revealed. “I went out and got stitches, but I went right back in.”
Locke impresses in return to starting line-up
With Lewis, Florida’s leader in minutes-per-game, unavailable, the Gators looked to Locke, who until Saturday was Florida’s longest-tenured starter.
Locke, who was replaced in the starting line-up prior to UF’s loss to Kentucky, got the start with Lewis absent, and he made the most of the opportunity, scoring 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting, including several critical shots down the stretch.
Following a block by Castleton, Appleby corralled the rebound and found an open Locke in the corner. The Baltimore native drilled the 3-pointer with 2:37 left to play to put Florida back in front, 64-63, a lead that would only grow the rest of the way.
Despite Locke’s brief relegation to the bench, there was no doubt in the eyes of his teammates that he’d step up when Florida needed a critical basket.
“It’s amazing. He puts a lot of work in every day. No matter what happens in the game, he’s back in the gym after the game, the next day, working hard on his shot,” Castleton said of Locke, “so to see something like this isn’t surprising. He puts the work in, what he’s capable of, but it’s definitely great to see him bounce back from the last two games. It’s good to see him succeed, and we’re going to need that definitely on Saturday as well.”
Florida 72, Mississippi 63
MISSISSIPPI (6-5, 1-3 SEC)
Buffen 4-9 2-4 10, Sy 0-3 0-0 0, Crowley 1-5 0-0 2, Shuler 7-14 3-3 19, Rodriguez 2-8 0-0 6, Joiner 4-9 0-0 9, White 2-5 4-6 8, Allen 1-2 2-2 4, Vaughn 2-3 0-0 5, Murrell 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-59 11-15 63.
FLORIDA (6-3, 3-2)
Castleton 6-12 9-12 21, Duruji 1-7 0-0 3, Appleby 2-4 1-2 5, Locke 4-8 4-4 15, Mann 4-12 8-8 17, Ruzhentsev 2-3 0-0 5, Glover 2-4 0-0 4, Payne 1-1 0-0 2, Osifo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 22-26 72.
Halftime_Florida 33-31. 3-Point Goals_Mississippi 6-13 (Rodriguez 2-2, Shuler 2-5, Vaughn 1-1, Joiner 1-3, Crowley 0-2), Florida 6-14 (Locke 3-6, Ruzhentsev 1-2, Duruji 1-3, Mann 1-3). Fouled Out_White. Rebounds_Mississippi 26 (Buffen 5), Florida 37 (Castleton 10). Assists_Mississippi 8 (Shuler 3), Florida 9 (Castleton, Mann 3). Total Fouls_Mississippi 21, Florida 12.