Florida basketball: Gators emphasizing business-like approach in battle at Barclays with reeling Terrapins

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
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No. 16 Florida (7-2) vs. Maryland (5-4)

What: Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational

When: 5:03 p.m. today, estimated start after prior game went into OT

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York

TV: Big Ten Network. Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

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Having secured a 30-point victory Wednesday at home over North Florida, the No. 16-ranked Florida men’s basketball team takes the road once again for a neutral-site match-up at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with the University of Maryland as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational. 

The Gators snapped a two-game losing streak with the win over the Ospreys, thanks to a return to form on both ends of the court. Colin Castleton poured in a career-high 26 points as UF had a sizable advantage in the low post throughout the night, and Florida coach Mike White is keen on the senior forward setting the tone from the opening tip when the Gators take the court at 4:30 p.m. today (Big Ten Network) for their first meeting with the Terrapins in 18 years. 

The University of Florida forward Colin Castleton (12) leaps in for a dunk as the Gators play the University of North Florida at Exactech Arena in Gainesville Fla. Dec. 8, 2021. The Gators beat the UNF Ospreys to break their two-game losing streak.

“Colin has to have the same mental approach. He has to play hard, he has to lead by example,” White said. “He has to be fully engaged in what we’re doing.”

Though, aware of the variability the Terrapins’ defense possesses, the Gators will adjust their game plan based on what Maryland shows — Castleton simply has to be ready to capitalize if given the opportunity.

“That said, we’re gonna read the defense, too. And it’s a different defense — it’s a different level of physicality and size and length, and who knows how they’ll defend (Castleton),” White said. “Most importantly though with him, regardless of how much he scores early, or scores at all, it’s about his, again, his leadership, his mental approach, just being locked in to what we’re doing.”

Rather than adjust the preparation or message based on the immediate opposition, White is only focused on his team’s performance, its continued improvement and what he can control within the confines of Florida’s basketball complex. So the Gators can’t let their guard back down by becoming privy to the Terrapins’ struggles as of late. 

When Maryland takes the court against UF, it’ll have been just nine days since Mark Turgeon stepped down from his post and made way for NCAA men’s basketball legend Danny Manning to serve as interim head coach. Discord between Turgeon and the university had been growing steadily, and the administration didn’t seem thrilled with the thought of him remaining with the program past the 2021-22 season, leading Turgeon to step down rather abruptly rather than finish out the season amid waning support. 

That didn’t immediately lead to a correction as Maryland dropped its first game under Manning, a 67-61 defeat at the hands of Northwestern, though the Terrapins will have had a week of rest and recuperation in the wake of the loss before battling with the Gators. 

Not looking to spark the Terrapins in turmoil, White wants the team to ignore the noise around the opposition while remaining focused on playing diligent and disciplined. 

“We just got finished talking to them about it being a business trip, of course. I’m sure Maryland’s saying the same type of stuff,” White said. “We want our guys to always enjoy their processes and their quality of life in their time at the University of Florida, but we want to have a chance to be successful. And what does that mean? You know, obviously we can't worry about the result of the game right now. We'd like to get a win, of course. So would Maryland. We’ve got to get better, we’ve got to play well. Those are things that we're focused on right now.”

Projected starters

Florida

Anthony Duruji F 6-7   220    R-Sr    9.1 ppg     4.3 rpg

Colin Castleton F 6-11 231    Sr         15.7 ppg   9.7 rpg

Brandon McKissic G 6-3   185   Gr. 8.3 ppg   3.4rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. G 6-5   205    Gr. 10.6 ppg 3.0 rpg

Myreon Jones G 6-3   175   Sr 10.4 ppg  3.4 rpg

Maryland

Donta Scott F 6-8 230  Jr. 10.2 ppg   7.7 rpg

Qudus Wahab F 6-11 240  Jr. 11.1 ppg    6.8rpg

Fatts Russell G 5-11 165  Gr. 12.1 ppg   4.1 rpg

Eric Ayala G 6-5 205  Sr. 13.1 ppg   4.7 rpg

Hakim Hart G 6-8 205  Jr. 8.2 ppg   3.6 rpg

Notes: The Gators have one win vs. Big Ten competition already this season. Florida last had multiple wins vs. Big Ten opponents in 2006-07 (three, including two in the NCAA Tournament) and last did so during the regular season in 1987-88…Florida and Maryland last met in a neutral-site game nearly 90 years ago in the 1932 Southern Conference tournament, in what was UF’s final game before the formation of the Southeastern Conference…The Gators have had a balanced offensive attack, with six diff erent players leading or co-leading the team in scoring at least once within the first eight games of the season.

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