Florida basketball: 3 takeaways from the Gators' 73-64 win over No. 20 Missouri

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida forward Colin Castleton (12) tries to pass around Missouri guard D'Moi Hodge (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Youngblood)

Florida basketball is starting to find a groove under first-year coach Todd Golden.

The Gators (10-7, 3-2 SEC) are on their first three-game win streak of the season, rallying from down 11 points early to beat Missouri 73-64 before an announced 9,301 Saturday at the O'Connell Center.

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"It's big being able to trust it," Florida center Colin Castleton said. "We were at .500. We all just came together and said we've got to figure this out whatever we have to do to get it done, to win games is the biggest thing. We had (lost) a couple of close ones and we can't those back. We can only get the ones ahead of us and that was our goal, that was our focus. We won a couple of good ones."

Sophomore guard Will Richard scored a season-high 18 points for Florida, going 4 of 8 from 3-point range. Castleton, meanwhile, posted another solid all-around floor game with 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. Castleton surpassed 1,000 points for his Florida career, joining Dorian Finney-Smith as the second transfer player in Florida history to achieve the feat.

The Gators picked up their first win against a ranked team under Golden and first win over a ranked opponent since upsetting No. 2 Auburn 63-62 on Feb. 19, 2022.

Florida shot 47.1% from the floor and 43.5% (10-23) from 3-point range.

"There have been some games early on that we lost where a lot of things looked good but we didn't make shots," Golden said. "Today guys stepped up and made shots, they made big-time plays in big moments and that's a sign of a team coming of age."

Florida also played more composed down the stretch, turning the ball over five times in the second half after turning the ball over 14 times in the first half.

"We touched on just being able to take care of the ball," Castleton said. "When we turn it over and give them free layups and easy possessions, it just digs you in a hole in the beginning of the game. Even though we won, the last three games we've won we've dug ourselves a hole so I feel like if we can clean that up and get that going we'd win these games by more,"

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Gators dig themselves another hole

Florida found itself down 11-0 to start the game, failing to score its first basket until Kowacie Reeves hit a runner in transition at the 15:00 mark. During the stretch, Florida went 0 for 5 from the field and turned the ball over four times.

"We're really consistent at being bad the first four to six minutes of the game but we played great the last 34 minutes," Golden said. "We need to stop digging ourselves holes obviously if I had a great answer we wouldn't do it, with that being said, that's a really good team, really good offensive team, obviously provided a lot of defensive pressure which really bothered us in the first half."

Missouri's full-court pressure harassed Florida throughout the first half, forcing 14 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.

"I would say just slowing the game down was the key," Richard said. "We were rushing, letting them speed up the game, get in transition. So just slowing down, getting back to our scout, executing."

Kugel leads comeback

Freshman Riley Kugel came off the bench to spark Florida's comeback scoring 10 of his 13 points in the first half. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Kugel cut Missouri's lead to 15-8.

"That really gave us a spark and everyone fed off of that," Richard said.

Kugel then had a transition layup to cut Missouri's lead to 23-21 and made a pair of free throws with 36 seconds left to tie the score at 28 at halftime.

"Riley has been big," Florida guard Myreon Jones said. "Today it showed, he came in the game and it was energy right away, and I think, the more games he's playing, the more relaxed and calm he's been. It's just coming to him and we feed off of that."

3-point line the difference

Florida went 10 of 23 from 3-point range. while Missouri was 3 of 19 from beyond the arc. Richard and Kugel combined for seven of Florida's 10 3-pointers. Richard's four 3-pointers were his most in a game since going 4-for-4 against Stetson on Dec. 4.

"I've been working a lot on being low on the catch, having a good base," Richard said. "Taking shots that are open and in rhythm rather than forcing shots."

Senior guard Myreon Jones also hit a clutch 3-pointer to put Florida up 62-55 with 4:50 left. Jones went 2 for 5 from beyond the arc to improve to 7 for 14 (.500) from 3-point range over his last three games. He was also a steadying influence in the second half for the Gators, posting 5 assists to just 1 turnover in 34 minutes on the floor against Missouri's pressure defense.

"Myreon's been playing well, really since Christmas," Golden said. "He just doesn't turn over the ball."

Defensively, Florida has made marked improvement defending the 3-point line. Missouri had some open looks it didn't lock down, but the Gators have held opponents to 26.3% from 3-point range (51-183) over their last nine games.

"Our switching is bothering teams a little bit," Golden said. "They are not getting as many catch-and-shoot 3s or comfortable 3s. We generally have a contest a little closer. We got lucky on a couple today. I thought they missed some open ones but about time. We got some luck on our side."