Colin Castleton's impressive line a testament to Florida Gators' tenacity in NCAA Tournament

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

Down the stretch of what’s been a breakout season for both he and his point guard, Florida junior forward Colin Castleton had been held to single-digit scoring performances in only four games since the Gators began conference play back Dec. 30 — although two had come recently in a critical stretch, in the SEC tournament with Florida fighting for a favorable seeding. 

Compared to much of his play for UF this season, it would have been accurate to say Castleton’s production had dipped slightly heading into the do-or-die portion of the schedule, the NCAA Tournament. 

But Castleton showed once again how vital he is for the No. 7-seed Gators in the team’s victory in overtime against No. 10-seed Virginia Tech on Friday. 

The DeLand native tallied impressive totals across the board: 19 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks, and two assists while playing a season-high 43 minutes. 

How to watch:Florida Gators vs. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles on TV, live stream

Looking back:Gators continue to show resolve in OT win in NCAA tournament

On the other side:Oral Roberts' Max Abmas is the NCAA's leading scorer. Here's what Gators fans need to know

Florida forward Colin Castleton (12) defends on Virginia Tech Hokies guard Hunter Cattoor (0) during the first round Friday of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

It wasn’t necessarily the scoring the Gators needed from Castleton, but rather an uptick on the glass — he’s averaging 6.2 rebounds per contest and has just one double-digit rebounding performance this season despite possessing one of the conference’s largest frames.

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“I knew the past couple games I wasn’t really rebounding to my standard. Coaches talk about it, and I know what I’ve got to bring every day, and if I don’t it doesn’t look good on myself and the team,” Castleton said. “I realized that I had to do better on the rebounding part, and that just comes with aggressiveness and playing with a high-motor, and just wanting it more than the other team.”

As Florida spokesperson Denver Parler noted post-game, Castleton’s stat line was one for the record books: he’s one of just seven players over the last 25 years to go for 19 points, at least 13 rebounds, three blocks and two dimes, a list that includes retired NBA stars Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, as well as current New Orleans Pelicans star Zion Williamson. 

He wasn’t thinking of the company he was about to keep, but rather Castleton’s focus in-game was on one thing: staying alive amidst the madness of March. 

“It’s win or go home right now, so you’ve got to leave it all out on the line,” he said. “We weren’t losing the game, that’s just what it comes down to. You have to have a mindset of ‘we’re not losing this game.’ We don’t want to go back to Florida just yet. You just gotta keep pushing and keep fighting.”

He would fight through fatigue on top of the Hokies defense. 

Castleton clearly needed a breather — the Gators were without reserve forward Omar Payne, who remains a game-time decision for UF’s second round match-up tonight with Oral Roberts at 7:45 p.m. — but again, he understood the gravity of the situation and what was at stake.

And he wasn’t the only one. 

“This is what practicing, pre-season conditioning, all that stuff, you have to just fight through it, this is what we prepare for. This is March Madness. Everybody’s got to be ready,” Castleton said. “Niels (Lane) came in and played great on defense. They tried to go at him and he got a stop, and that’s big for us, having guys coming in and being confident. That’s huge, especially in a tournament like this, because you never know what’s going to happen. Tyree (Appleby) went down, we had two guys foul out, but we stayed resilient and we pushed through it.”

Hopefully for Florida, he’s caught his breath as Castleton’s going to be counted on once again against the Golden Eagles, whose tallest player in the rotation, 6-foot-8 forward Kevin Obanor, is known more for his ability to stretch the floor than dominate the low block. 

Oral Roberts scored just 26 points in the paint in the win over the Buckeyes, who had 40 points around the rim in the upset. 

One would think the combination of Castleton’s size, wingspan and shot-blocking prowess would give the Gators an advantage they didn’t necessarily have against the Hokies — though in the NCAA Tournament, nothing’s given while everything is earned. 

“It just shows who we are as a team, our character. We went through a lot of other stuff off the court, and this game (Friday) we went through a lot of stuff on the court, whether that’s missed free throws, turnovers — I had a sloppy turnover at the end of the game —just fighting through adversity, that’s been our motto all year,” Castleton said. “Coach White, he’s done a tremendous job preaching it to us, and we’ve all had a good mindset. There’s obviously days where you might get down about certain things, and worry about stuff that we shouldn’t worry about, but at the end of the day we just try to push through it as best as possible, and that’s a credit to the coaches. They preach it to us everyday, and they instill that in us, that whatever happens, you have to fight through adversity. Not just in basketball, this is going to happen our whole life, so being able to push through that is going to teach us a lot of good lessons.” 

Projected starters for Florida Gators vs. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles


No. 4 Anthony Duruji, F, 6-7, 220 pounds, R-Junior, 6.0 pts/4.3 reb

No. 12 Colin Castleton, F, 6-11, 231, Junior, 12.3 pts/6.2 reb

No. 22 Tyree Appleby, G, 6-1, 170, R-Junior, 11.2 pts/3.1 reb

No. 10 Noah Locke, G, 6-3, 203, Junior, 10.4 pts/2.3 reb

No. 1 Tre Mann, G, 6-5, 190, Sophomore, 15.9 pts/5.6 reb/3.4 ast

Oral Roberts  

No. 22 Francis Lacis, F, 6-7, 215, Junior, 3.9 pts / 3.6 reb

No. 0 Kevin Obanor, F, 6-8, 225, Junior, 18.6 pts / 9.5 reb

No. 2 Kareem Thompson, G, 6-6, 190, Sophomore, 8.6 pts / 3.7 reb

No. 3 Max Abmas, G, 6-1, 165, Sophomore, 24.4 pts / 3.3 reb / 3.7 ast

No. 11 Carlos Jurgens, G, 6-5, 195, Sophomore, 5.6 pts / 2.8 reb