Florida Gators enter SEC/Big 12 Challenge vs. Oklahoma State without Castleton; Jitoboh out for season

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
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Following a hectic stretch that saw the Florida men’s basketball team play three games in five days, the Gators are back at home — although the going doesn’t get much easier. 

UF hosts Oklahoma State at 4 p.m. in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and Florida coach Mike White was initially hopeful the contest would mark the return of starting forward Colin Castleton to the lineup.

“Up until today he was making some progress,” White said of Castleton’s left-shoulder injury. “Hopefully we get some news in the coming days as to what it is.”

But Castleton missed Friday’s practice for entirely different reasons, putting his availability for Saturday’s contest into doubt for the fifth-straight game. Although White still didn’t have a timeline for his return, he maintained he was doubtful to go against the Cowboys (10-9, 3-5 Big 12).

“We may have gotten some clarity today, but he was sick today,” said White, “so he didn’t come to the facility for practice.”

In Castleton’s absence, reserve big man Jason Jitoboh filled in nicely until an eye injury suffered late in the first half of Florida’s 78-71 loss at Tennessee sidelined him for the second half. 

UF did receive some clarity regarding Jitoboh’s status, though it was an undesirable prognosis.

“He’s in surgery as we speak. He’s done for the season, because of an injury to his eye – I mean, you can’t make up the adversity that these guys have had to overcome and will continue to overcome,” White said of Jitoboh. 

Florida center Jason Jitoboh (33) leaves the court after being injured on a play during the first half against Tennessee Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn.

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White also addressed the postgame scuffle in the handshake line against the Volunteers, as well as Tennessee coach Rick Barnes’ allegation it was started by a Florida player, saying both teams exchanged words. 

“There’s talking both ways, man. And the stuff that Keyontae Johnson has to hear is really unfortunate. It’s sickening in my opinion, at times,” White said. “Tyree Appleby’s getting yelled at by some crazy dude up in the stands who was escorted out of the game, and these guys continued to compete and have a chance.”

Florida guard Tyree Appleby (22) is wrapped up by a teammate after an altercation following the game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.

With C.J. Felder in the mix to return to regular minutes after dealing with a non-COVID illness, there’s optimism the Gators can still find a way to limit the opposition in the paint, although undersized forward Tuongthach Gatkek will now have to play a significant role moving forward. 

From an offensive standpoint, however, the focus remains on continuing to shoot with confidence, which White maintained was a bright spot against the Volunteers. The Gators have to prioritize internal improvement, which starts with maintaining the self-assured approach the team displayed in Knoxville. 

The Gators connected on 11-of-24 three-point attempts against Tennessee, a season-high in three-point conversions and UF’s second-highest shooting percentage from long-range, trailing only Florida’s 7-of-15 performance from beyond the arc in the team’s 71-55 win on Nov. 14 over Florida State. 

White’s looking for the Gators to maintain their newfound shooting touch in the return to their home court, where Florida has won its previous two contests before falling at Ole Miss and at Tennessee. 

“Down the stretch, we had four really good looks that didn’t go down. One or two of those go down, maybe we can survive in there and steal it,” White said. “And we’re starting to shoot it with more confidence.”

Don’t let the record be deceptive: the Cowboys won’t be an easy mark. 

Oklahoma State is two weeks removed from an upset on the road of then-No. 1-ranked Baylor and is coming off a one-possession loss to No. 24 Iowa State in overtime. Like the Gators, they’re battle-hardened as a result of playing in one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, the Big 12. For a positive result, the Gators know it will take an effort reminiscent of Wednesday night’s showing against Tennessee.

“I don’t know how we’ll look tomorrow, but I can tell you we’ll fight,” White said Friday. “These guys are ultra-competitive.”

Florida’s projected starters

Anthony Duruji F 6-7   220    R-Sr    9.8 ppg  4.5 rpg

Tyree Appleby G 6-1    163   Sr     10.1 ppg   2.3 rpg

Brandon McKissic G 6-3   185   Gr. 6.5 ppg   3.3 rpg

Kowacie Reeves G 6-6   182    Fr. 4.7 ppg 1.3 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. G 6-5   205   Gr.  10.3 ppg 3.6 rpg

Oklahoma State’s projected starters

Moussa Cisse F 7-0   225   So. 6.2 ppg 5.5 rpg

Avery Anderson III G 6-3 170 Jr. 11.3 ppg  2.8 rpg

Bryce Thompson G 6-5 195 So.  9.8 ppg  2.2 rpg

Rondel Walker G 6-5   180 So. 4.0 ppg  2.3 rpg

Isaac Likekele G 6-5 215 Sr 7.4 ppg  3.5 rpg

DURUJI, JONES APPROACHING 1,000 POINTS

Notes: Florida takes the floor for its fifth game in 11 days, welcoming Oklahoma State for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and seeking its third straight home win. In the most recent matchup between the programs, UF topped OSU in the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Fla., during Mike White’s inaugural season at UF. … With a victory on Saturday, the Gators would own wins vs. ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 opponents in a single season for the first time in UF’s program history. … Anthony Duruji and Myreon Jones are within a notable milestone: the 1,000-point scoring club. Jones needs just four points to reach the mark for his career, while Duruji is 20 points away. The duo would join Tyree Appleby, Phlandrous Fleming Jr. and Brandon McKissic in the four-digit club.

SATURDAY

What: Oklahoma State at Florida 

Where: Exactech Arena

When: 4 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

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