Charged by an electric performance from Colin Castleton the Gators came away with a gritty 72-63 win over Ole Miss, one they desperately needed after tough losses the week prior. Finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 blocks Castleton was a monster on the inside and if not for him the Gators very well could have let this game slip. They trailed for much of the game and were behind deep in the second half but a determined comeback in the final minutes ultimately gave Florida what appeared to be a comfortable win. They were without Scottie Lewis who was out due to health and safety protocol and while he was certainly missed they were able to compete at a winning level without him.
Dominating The Inside
Colin Castleton has quickly become a fan favorite in Gainesville with his soft hands and intense personality and when the Gators needed a leader he was up to the challenge on Tuesday night. While Florida’s perimeter players struggled against Ole Miss’ wings Castleton took charge of the offense either finishing for himself or finding teammates for 3 assists he was a focal point of the Gators’ attack but what was even more impressive was his defense. Commanding the paint with his shot blocking the Gators were able to play aggressively on the perimeter knowing that if they allowed a drive, Castleton would be there to meet them. His 7 blocks are more than any other Gator has put up in a game since before 2006 (when the statistics I was looking at ended) and each one of them was necessary. This was a statement game for the junior.
In a show of effort and execution the Gators ended the game on an absolute tear, finishing with a 14-0 run that began with the Gators down 5 and ended with a 9-point win. Castleton led the way on the defensive end but it was Tyree Appleby and Tre Mann who completed things on the offensive side with their flourish of skills with the ball in their hands. Both were able to get Rebel defenders to miss and either get to the hoop or find teammates, and it ultimately helped lead to Florida’s win. Heart has never been a problem for this team and the heroic run they finished the game on spoke to that.
Finding His Rhythm
Noah Locke has had a rough couple of games but with Scottie Lewis out he got back in the starting lineup and had a fantastic bounce back performance. Alabama and Kentucky both made Locke bounce the ball and be an initiator, something he is not skilled at, and it completely took him off his rhythm. Against Ole Miss the Gators came in with a much better offensive plan and were able to find shots for Locke and he was effective going 3-6 from the three-point line. For Florida to reach their ceiling they need Locke to play at a high level and against Ole Miss he was able to contribute.
The exciting finale of this game felt awesome and definitely left everyone watching with a sweet taste in their mouth but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Gators trailed for most of the game and looked rather disjointed offensively. Luckily, even when their offense was struggling they were hitting shots (ending the game shooting 43% from three) which can cover a multitude of sins. Ultimately this team desperately needed a win and they were able to get one in dramatic fashion which should lift their spirits and help them get on track after one of the toughest weeks in recent Florida basketball history.