BASKETBALL

Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from the Gators' 82-75 win over Georgia at the O'Dome

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) goes up to score at the basket during a basketball game against Georgia at the Exactech Arena in Gainesville Fla. Feb. 9, 2022. The Gators beat the Bulldogs 72-63 to notch another SEC win.

Florida men's basketball coach Todd Golden was all smiles following his first SEC win.

It wasn't easy, but Florida made big shots and big plays down the stretch to hold off Georgia 82-75 Saturday before an announced 9,077 at the O'Connell Center.

The Gators (8-7, 1-2 SEC) snapped a three-game losing streak in Georgia coach Mike White's first return to the O'Dome since leaving Florida last March.

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"For our team, it was really important I think," Golden said. "Because as a team there's only so many blows you can take before you start having issues with your trust, your belief."

Florida led by as many as 13 points in the second half before Georgia cut the lead to three points four times down the stretch. The last time came when Georgia guard Kario Oquendo sank a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left, cutting Florida's lead to 78-75.

But after losing back-to-back one-possession games to Auburn and Texas A&M, Florida was able to finish off the game. Florida point guard Kyle Lofton made two clutch free throws with 17 seconds left to extend the Gator lead back to 80-75. Then, off a Georgia miss, Florida finished off the game in transition, with Lofton finding freshman Riley Kugel for an open transition dunk with six seconds left.

"Being a senior and older point guard out there, just controlling the team, making sure we got good shots, that was a key down the stretch," Lofton said.

Lofton took control of the game down the stretch with his scoring and playmaking ability. He also found Kugel for an alley-oop dunk with 30 seconds left to give Florida a 78-72 lead.

"It definitely felt a little bit different, having the ball in my hands, making the play at the end of the game, just doing what I had to do," Lofton said. "The coaches trusted me. They told me if we lose this game, it's on you, so putting that on my shoulders it was like, alright, we've got to win this game."

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Gators had balanced scoring

Florida finished with five scorers in double figures, led by Lofton, who had 18 points and three assists. Lofton went 7-of-11 from the field, scoring on pull-up baskets and drives to the basket. Lofton said he received a tip from staff member and former Florida national champion point guard Taurean Green about being ready to shoot off catching the ball.

Sophomore guard Will Richard hit a pair of early 3-pointers and scored 12 of his 14 points off the bench. Myreon Jones had 13 points off the bench, Kowacie Reeves had 12 points off the bench and Colin Castleton wound up with 12 points despite taking only eight shots.

"It's hard to guard a team when you have three, four guys go off each night," Lofton said. "I think we have that. We haven't really shown that. But I think going along, we share the ball more, we get more guys involved, then it's really hard to guard us."

Florida scored half of its baskets off assists, with 15 assists on 30 field goals made.

"It's been one our weaknesses, we've talked about it a lot in terms of getting multiple guys playing well at the same time," Golden said. "Sharing the ball was great. I think we did really well in extra passes, really good looks, shot it just OK but hit some big shots. Any time you get 15 assists to 11 turnovers, you are going to take that."

Colin Castleton posts a strong all-around floor game

Castleton did a little bit of everything to help lead Florida to its first SEC win as the 6-foot-11 preseason All-SEC center wound up with 12 points, eight rebounds, five assists and seven blocked shots in close to 35 minutes. He blocked six of his seven shots in the first half, which helped Florida erase an early 13-point deficit and take a 39-34 lead into halftime.

"It would be unfair in terms of putting that expectation on him to be a complete player every night," Golden said. "But I thought tonight he did a really good job cleaning up the glass for us, five assists today, seven blocks, incredible protecting the rim. (Georgia) was 16 for 48 from 2, 33 percent. We've become a real goal field goal percentage defense and he's a big part of that."

Castleton took a shot to the mouth going for his eighth blocked shot, which forced him to temporarily leave the game before returning for the final two minutes. Castleton's seven blocks were two shy of the school record for blocks in the game, which is nine by Dwayne Davis against New Orleans during the 1989-90 season.

"Just trying to affect the game," Castleton said. "That's something coaches talk about. We miss sometimes, we don't get as many good looks as they think I should be getting but being able to affect the game at the glass, being able to affect the game at the rim, being a rim protector, helps everybody out."

Bench production helped Florida top Georgia

Florida outscored Georgia's bench 35-17, thanks to big games from Jones (13 points) and Reeves (12 points), who has settled into his role as Florida's sixth man. In addition, freshman guard Riley Kugel was brought in the game down the stretch for his on-ball defense and he responded with eight points, one steal and one block in 15:39 off the bench.

"As with a lot of freshmen it takes time," Golden said. "And I think sometimes when you are a decorated recruit or a four-star people expect him to be inserted into a lineup and give you great results every night, and that's not reality, especially in this league. We've been challenging him to be a more complete player, practice really hard, to be a great teammate because we know what he's capable of."

Florida's bench didn't impact the game just by scoring. Jones came up with a big save of a ball out of bounds which led to a transition basket during a 21-4 run at the end of the first half, which turned a 30-18 deficit into a 39-34 halftime lead.

"It was a real momentum swing," Jones said. "I just tried to bring some energy when I come off the bench."