Florida tops Virginia Tech in OT to advance in its 2021 NCAA tournament opener

Jordan Guskey
Muncie Star Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Florida didn’t have the opportunity to compete in last season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, due to the pandemic, but it made the most of its first chance in March Madness this season with a 75-70 win in overtime against Virginia Tech.

The No. 7-seed Gators (15-9) came into their South region matchup with the No. 10-seed Hokies (15-7) having lost three of their past four games. UF coach Mike White’s squad came in never having lost its first game in a NCAA tournament during White’s tenure. And the latter trend held up Friday at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Florida advancing to the next round Sunday to face No. 15 seed Oral Roberts (17-10), a 75-72 OT upset winner over two seed Ohio State, 75-72.

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“A great win for us,” White said. “Made it a little bit more interesting than we needed to, of course. Showed tremendous resilience to bounce back and find a way to win in overtime after giving up that lead there in the last minute without … Tyree Appleby … Omar Payne, of course. This team just continues to show character. No one’s been through what they’ve been through.”

Florida’s Colin Castleton said his mindset as he and his teammates trailed and encountered other issues, was just that he wasn’t going to lose that game. He added they don’t want to head back to Florida just yet. When the Gators weren’t able to close out the game in regulation, his coaches kept telling them that they were still going to win the game.

Turnovers, 3-point shooting and free throws gave Virginia Tech the edge in the first half

Virginia Tech Hokies guard Nahiem Alleyne (4) rises to the basket as Florida Gators guard Scottie Lewis (23) defends during the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 19, 2021, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.

Neither Florida nor Virginia Tech controlled the ball well across the first 20 minutes, the Gators turning it over nine times and the Hokies eight. It kept both sides from accomplishing much offensively before the break, despite both shooting an identical 52.2 percent (12-for-23) from the field in that time.

But the Hokies took better advantage of the Gators’ miscues, scoring eight points off of turnovers to UF’s four. Virginia Tech hit five 3s to Florida’s two. And while the two sides matched free-throw percentages in the first 20 minutes, the Hokies had taken eight to the Gators’ two and made four compared to one.

It’s what allowed Virginia Tech to lead for more than 15 minutes, and Florida not even a full minute. The Hokies’ Hunter Cattoor led all scorers after the first half with nine points, as he hit a trio of 3s, and he was only averaging 8.4 points per game to date this season. The Gators’ leading scorer so far this season and at that point in the game, Tre Mann, had the most turnovers of any player on the floor in the first half with three.

Turnovers continued to be an issue in the second half, but not enough to keep Florida from winning. Virginia Tech wasn’t able to hit 3s in the second half and overtime as it was in the first half.

Gators’ Mann limited by the Hokies, but Castleton shines

Mann came into the contest against Virginia Tech having scored at least 21 points each game in his past four appearances, and 30 against Tennessee last week. He was Florida’s most prolific scorer this season, and one of its most effective 3-point shooters. Against the Hokies, though, Mann fell back to just under the 16-point per game average he came in with, and without overtime he would only have 11 points.

Mann finished with 14 points, one of four Gators to finish in double figures scoring. He was 5-for-9 shooting from the field and 1-for-2 from the free-throw line.

It was Colin Castleton whose play did more to allow Florida to advance. He finished with a 19-point, 14-rebound double-double. It was just his second double-double all season, the first coming in January against Ole Miss. It’s his most points in a game since he had 21 in late January against West Virginia.

“Past couple games, I wasn’t really rebounding to my standard,” said Castleton, who played a part in holding Virginia Tech leading scorer Keve Aluma to just seven points. “Coaches talk about it, and I know what I’ve got to bring every day. If I don’t then it doesn’t look good on myself … and the team. So, I realized that I had to do better on the rebounding part. That just comes with aggressiveness, playing at a high motor, just wanting it more than the other team. So, being able to just realize that and get that mindset back going … It’s win or go home right now, so you’ve got to leave it all out on the line.”

The Gators dominated the rebounding battle.

Florida plays the majority of the second half, then overtime, without Appleby

As Appleby was helped off the floor after an apparent head injury with 12:58 left in the game, and Virginia Tech up 44-38, Florida fans saw one of its leading scorers depart. Appleby was hit by an elbow as he defended a Hokies player. He was also second on the team in the game in rebounds with five, and had an assist, too.

Florida was forced to play the rest of the way without Appleby, who had been averaging 11.4 points and three rebounds per game this season. Appleby was one of a small handful of players who had actually played all 23 games the Gators had this season prior to facing the Hokies. It’s unclear if Appleby being available would have allowed Florida to slow down Virginia Tech’s Nahiem Alleyne, who finished with a game-high 28 points.

Postgame, White did not have any details to share on Appleby’s status moving forward.

What is the final score of Florida vs Virginia Tech basketball game?

Florida 75, Virginia Tech: 70

Who does Florida play next?

The Gators will face 15-seed Oral Roberts, who upset No. 2 seed Ohio State in overtime on Friday.