3 takeaways from Florida Gators men's basketball team's loss at Ole Miss

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer

Despite possessing an early lead, the Florida men’s basketball team struggled for much of the rest of the way as the Gators’ three-game win streak ended with a 70-54 loss Monday night to Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi. 

UF took a 19-12 lead with 8:18 to play on a pair of free throws by freshman Kowacie Reeves, who finished the game with five points in his third career start.

But Florida would go 1-of-10 from the field to close the half, allowing Mississippi to erase the deficit and tie the game at 22 heading into halftime. 

The Rebels came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders, scoring the first eight points of the second half and countering UF’s rally with one of their own. Mississippi extended its lead to 11 on a three-pointer by Luis Rodriguez with 10:09 remaining, and the Gators didn’t get within seven the rest of the way. 

Here are three takeaways from Monday’s loss. 

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Felder can’t go

UF’s frontcourt, which was already without leading scorer Colin Castleton for the third consecutive game, took another hit less than an hour before tip-off. 

Florida reserve forward C.J. Felder missed the match-up with the Rebels due to a non-COVID related illness. The junior transfer from Boston College entered the contest averaging 4.8 points per contest off the bench, but Felder was expected to play a larger role once again considering Castleton’s continued absence.

“It’s hard to replicate what Colin does, and it’s hard to replicate what C.J. does, because he’s our everything guy. He can do a little bit of everything,” forward Jason Jitoboh said. “It was definitely tough not having C.J., because he could have helped us this game, but hopefully he’ll be ready for next game or the game after that.”

Gators go cold from 3

From the opening minutes, it looked as if shots were falling from long-range for Florida. The Gators connected on two of their first five attempts from three-point land against the Rebels, with Tyree Appleby and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. connecting from distance within the first 6:30 of play.

But UF would go cold from beyond the arc for the remainder of the contest, missing its next 18 shots before finishing 4-of-29 from three-point land. 

Without having reviewed the game film, Florida coach Mike White didn’t have many answers in the aftermath when it came to the team’s shooting woes against Mississippi. 

“I don’t know that I can put a finger on it. I thought we had some good looks,” White said. “When the other team makes a run, sometimes you put a little bit more heat on yourselves mentally than you should.”

Regardless, it wasn’t just the team’s field-goal percentage that left much to be deserved. After allowing just 22 points on eight field goals in the first half, the Rebels tallied 48 points on 17 makes in the second half, and White didn’t feel as if it was entirely a result of high-quality offense by his alma mater.

“I don’t know how defensively we can be that good in one half and struggle that much in the second half,” he said. “We also continue to – and hopefully we don’t do it again moving forward – we give in at times when it’s not going in.”

Florida Gators center Jason Jitoboh (33) yells in celebration as he dunks the ball against Mississippi State at Exactech Arena, in Gainesville, Jan. 19, 2022. On Monday night, he scored a team-high 12 points in the loss to Ole Miss.

Jitoboh effective again

Jason Jitoboh didn’t have much help Monday night, but he once again had an effective performance in his new-found starting role.

The junior forward finished with a team-high 12 points, matching his career-high, to go along with five rebounds. Jitoboh, who was one of three Gators to finish the game in double figures, had an efficient night from the field, too, hitting all six of his field-goal attempts against the Rebels. 

While playing 14 minutes in the first half, Jitoboh avoided picking up any personal fouls, although the second half was a far different story. Once an afterthought in the frontcourt rotation, Jitoboh continues to prove he’s a reliable option down low. 

The Gators may be without Castleton and Felder yet again when they take the court Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Knoxville against Tennessee, meaning Jitoboh should continue to be a primary piece of both the lineup and Florida’s offense. 

“Jason was good,” White said. “For 40 minutes, I thought Jason was really good. He’s taking advantage of opportunities, of course.”