Gators use dominant defensive effort to blow out Milwaukee

The Gators turned in kind of a ho-hum performance in the first half of their game against Milwaukee on Thursday evening. They led 33-22 at halftime, but they only went 2-for-11 from beyond the arc and turned it over six times.

Those missed opportunities on the offensive end allowed the Panthers to remain within striking distance as they headed into their locker room.

Then the No. 24 Gators exploded out of the gates in the second half to the tune of a 32-4 run over the first 13 minutes of the half to bury them. Included in that run was a more than 11-minute stretch where the Panthers didn’t make a field goal.

On the other end of the floor, Tyree Appleby made three three-pointers, while Myreon Jones, Phlandrous Fleming and Brandon McKissic chipped in one apiece during the run. Colin Castleton threw down three dunks, while Jones and Anthony Duruji slammed home one apiece.

It all added up to an easy 81-45 win for UF.

“We came out a little flat shooting the ball, but we always preach that they’re going to start going down,” Castleton said. “We all have confidence in ourselves and each other. Everybody has confidence. So, we just keep playing with that confidence and keep shooting the ball when you’re open and don’t hesitate, we’ll be fine. Everybody goes through a spurt of hitting shots and missing shots; it’s just basketball. It’s not going to go in every time. I feel like we did a good job moving the ball.

“We feel like we let up a little bit [at the end of the first half]. The first half was a little bit up and down, but we knew what we had to do – take care of business and play defense, [the] same thing we pride ourselves on in practice every day. We had a good couple days of practice. And just coming out the gates firing on all cylinders, which I feel like we did a good job of that.”

The Gators (3-0) held Milwaukee to just 31 percent shooting in both halves. They forced eight second-half turnovers that they turned into 12 points. UF made nine of their 17 shots from deep in the second half.

For the game, Florida shot 47 percent, including 39 percent from three-point land. They had an outstanding ratio of 21 assists to nine turnovers, as their ball movement was superb for most of the game, almost to a fault at times.

“That’s something we talked about at halftime,” coach Mike White said. “I was a little disappointed in our reluctancy to let it fly, with our confidence level. I thought we did a better job of that early second half of just letting it fly. If it’s a good shot, let’s take it. I don’t care whether you’ve missed your last three or made your last three. We know on this team who can shoot it and what type of shots we’re looking for from each individual, and, if it’s our shot, let’s just shoot it with confidence, and let’s attack the offensive glass.”

UF outrebounded Milwaukee by 11. The 45 points Milwaukee scored were the sixth-fewest the Gators have allowed under White.

Individually, Castleton, the reigning SEC Player of the Week, continued his scorching hot start to the season. He scored 19 points on 9-for-17 shooting and pulled down 10 rebounds for his second consecutive double-double and the fifth of his career.

“He established himself early on the interior,” White said. “I liked his energy level from the jump. Played with some physicality, played with some poise. Their perimeter did a pretty good job of letting Colin feel them with digs on the perimeter. He made some pretty good decisions. Fortunate for us, he got going on the interior because we really struggled from three, but I liked our looks.

“It gives you a chance on most nights. He’s a talent. He’s playing with a high level of activity on the offensive glass. He’s really settled in these last couple games, playing with confidence. He’s developed as a passer, as a playmaker, over time. He’ll continue to, versus certain teams, display his ability to make shots from the perimeter because he can do that. He’s playing with confidence, and, to complement all that, he’s made a huge jump defensively. He was a good defender for us last year. As of late, he’s really defending ball screens and protecting the rim at a high level.”

Appleby played a solid all-around game, with 14 points on 4-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

Duruji scored 12 points and collected seven rebounds, while Fleming turned in his first double-figure scoring night as a Gator with 12 points, two rebounds and two assists. Jones only scored seven points but grabbed four rebounds and tied Appleby for the team lead with five assists.

For Milwaukee (1-2), the Gators limited five-star freshman and likely one-and-doner Patrick Baldwin Jr. to 13 points on 6-for-15 shooting, and they pressured him into three turnovers. Markeith Browning was the only other Panther in double-figures with 11 points and a team-high six rebounds.

While this might seem like a fairly typical early-season beatdown of an overmatched opponent, this game had some added significance for the Gators. They were coming off of a highly emotional and physically taxing win over rival Florida State. The Gators haven’t handled prosperity very well over the past couple of years, so White challenged his players to bring a similar type of intensity against Milwaukee and play up to the standard that they’ve established for themselves.

Mission accomplished.

“It would’ve been disappointing if we came out and didn’t play with a similar type of intensity level, a similar type of selflessness offensively,” White said. “I don’t know that we matched it. It was such an emotional win, of course, the other day, a high-level opponent. I am very proud of the approach. I thought the last couple days were just solid, and I thought our effort was solid defensively for about 35 minutes. Cleaned up some turnovers there in the second half. We played pretty well. I thought we got better in some areas tonight.”

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.