BASKETBALL

3 takeaways from Florida Gators basketball SEC/Big 12 Challenge victory over Oklahoma State

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
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Led by a game-high 21 points from senior guard Tyree Appleby, Florida turned a 13-point halftime deficit into a nine-point victory over Oklahoma State at the Exactech Arena in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge defeating the Cowboys by a score of 81-72. 

OSU shot just 29.2 percent from field-goal range in the second half. 

Playing without forwards Colin Castleton and Jason Jitoboh, the Gators struggled inside throughout the afternoon but went 10-of-31 from three-point range.

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. added 14 points and six rebounds, while Anthony Duruji added 10 points, five rebounds, a steal and a block in 28 minutes.

Here are 3 takeaways from Saturday’s game.

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OSU gets hot from deep

The Cowboys arrived in Gainesville averaging less than 30 percent as a team on three-point attempts, putting Oklahoma State 337th out of 358 NCAA Division I programs when it came to three-point efficiency. 

But the visitors could hardly miss from long-range as the first half commenced, hitting 7-of-10 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. 

Oklahoma State came back to Earth in the second half, however, converting just one long-range attempts on eight tries.

Meanwhile, the Gators converted double-digit three-pointers for the second consecutive contest, led by Appleby's three makes. 

“I thought he had great confidence offensively. A little swagger, just stepped up, made some shots," White said of Appleby's UF career-high scoring performance. "Defensively I thought he tightened up a little bit. Made good decisions. He’s been great at the foul line recently. One of his better games, absolutely.”

Florida Gators guard Brandon McKissic (23) dribbles the ball during the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Billy Donovan Court at Exactech Arena.

Niels Lane returns, positive results follow

Coming out of the halftime break, and with Florida facing a 13-point deficit, sophomore guard Niels Lane saw the floor for the first time since Dec. 22 against Stony Brook. 

It wasn’t just Lane taking the floor either — the Gators used an underclassmen-heavy line-up to begin the second half, as Lane joined freshmen Elijah Kennedy and Kowacie Reeves Jr., as well as fellow sophomore Tuongthach Gatkek on the court with Appleby. The rotation was one Florida hadn’t used all season, and it resulted in a 18-7 run out of halftime that cut Oklahoma State’s double-digit advantage to 52-50.

"The five that started the second half set the tone defensively," White said of the atypical rotation.

Florida starters Duruji, Fleming and Brandon McKissic returned to the lineup with 15 minutes remaining on the clock, though the Gators didn’t experience a drop-off despite the rotation change. 

UF took its first lead since the opening minutes when Myreon Jones’ corner three put the Gators up 58-56 — a 15-point swing with more than eight minutes remaining in regulation.

"It was good to see him hit that one," White said of Jones' clutch jumper. "He shot it with confidence."

Lane may not have scored in his return to action, but the sophomore did record two of UF’s six blocks in the contest to help turn the tide. 

“We knew we had to shake something up, and honestly as a coach — you hate to admit it — but you’re trying to tick a guy off or two, you know, you’re trying to make a statement,” White said, “and maybe it will ignite somebody, and it did. I thought Niels Lane was fantastic. He played 13 minutes and was plus-14. You’re plus-14 and you take one shot in 13 minutes, it’s just a good example for all young people and even his teammates, that you can affect the game in so many different ways. His energy level in the press and halfcourt was evident. It’s crazy how one guy can bring it like that and it can rub off on the next guy, who can rub off one the next guy."

Depleted frontcourt holds its own

The Gators lacked significant size in the low post against the Cowboys with Castleton out indefinitely and Jitoboh having season-ending surgery Friday. With the team’s tallest options unable to go, Florida relied on the combo of 6-7 Duruji and 6-9 Gatkek, who finished with eight points, in the low post, and the results were so-so at best. 

The Cowboys had 32 points in the paint to just 12 by Florida, and Oklahoma State had the advantage on the glass, hauling in 34 rebounds to UF’s 28.

Fortunately for the Gators, they emerged victorious where it mattered most: the final score. 

As for Jitoboh, he remains hospitalized after undergoing eye surgery. The Gators visited Jitoboh as a team prior to traveling to the arena for the team’s pre-game shootaround. 

“You know, we’re coming off a game where we played as hard as you can play. I mean, we left every ounce of energy, fight, level of physicality up in Knoxville. And this is a hard-playing team. This is a tough team that we have here," White said. "And then more adversity, stepping up for Jason — we were all at the hospital this morning. An emotional day ... our guys responded in a huge way.

"No one likes to be called soft, but we played soft in the first half. We just did, and part of that is because Oklahoma State is very tough and confidently. But we were good in the second 20.”

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