For 34 minutes, every bounce seemed to trickle down the Ole Miss basket.
Mississippi guard Devontae Schuler hit a seemingly impossible three with Florida junior Anthony Duruji draped all over him. Guard Jarkel Joiner hit a difficult step back from range and a searing offensive start to the second half put Ole Miss up nine with just six minutes left.
Coach Mike White, after throwing his mask out of frustration in a Bobby Knight-inspired, pandemic-tinged move, called his team together and ensured that they weren’t going to lose the game.
Florida responded immediately. After a swat off the glass from junior Colin Castleton gave UF a fast-break possession, guard Noah Locke trailed down the right wing and knocked down a deep three to give the Gators a 64-63 lead. A 20-2 run in the final five minutes of the game saw UF salt away a 72-63 win over Ole Miss and return to winning ways in the SEC.
Florida and Ole Miss started the game with an evenly-matched, free-flowing five minutes of basketball. The Gators answered every punch from the visitors, and a steal and score from junior Tyree Appleby put the Gators up four.
An ensuing 13-6 run was powered by junior Colin Castleton, who hit a jumper, a layup and a free throw, in a 90-second stretch. The Michigan transfer stuffed the box score, leading UF with 21 points while tacking on 10 rebounds, seven blocks and three assists.
“He’s [Castleton] done this the last three or four games, came in the second half and gave us a huge spark,'' Florida guard Tre Mann said. “He can score, assist, block everything, and he’s great to have on the floor.”
After initially struggling with Ole Miss’ zone, quick passing around the perimeter allowed Mann to step into a wide-open three and give Florida a 24-13 lead.
Then, the Gators went ice cold. Ole Miss forced a five-minute field goal drought, and after finding success around the basket a three from Schuler knotted up the game at 27.
A mini 4-0 spurt from guard Ques Glover restored the Gator advantage, and UF ultimately took a two-point lead going into the locker room.
Ole Miss embraced Dan Mullen’s “middle eight” mantra, hitting four of its first five field goals on the other side of half time and establishing a 42-38 lead.
A three-ball on the left-wing from Moscow native Samson Ruzhentsev cut the Gator deficit to three, and four subsequent Castleton free throws equaled out two Rebel buckets.
Even as a tough three from Joiner dropped and Schuler converted a layup, White continued to see improvement from his defense.
“I didn’t like our body language coming out of those possessions,” White said. “Because we did exactly what we were supposed to do. It’s all about responding to adversity, and I think our guys did a great job down the stretch.”
UF’s response was most notable on the offensive glass, crashing the boards and earning extra possessions.
After corralling a miss, Castleton hit a nifty post-spin, pumpfaked and earned the bucket and the foul. The following possession, Mann tracked down the offensive rebound, crossed left and went up-and-under for two. Florida's work on the offensive glass cut the Ole Miss lead to three and forced a Rebel timeout.
After starting the half on fire, the Rebels couldn’t buy a bucket down the stretch. After Locke’s three put the Gators in front, Ole Miss clanked a pair of free throws and Mann hit a layup and four free throws to close out a resilient, come-from-behind win for Florida.
UF will hope for the return of star guard Scottie Lewis, who was declared ineligible Monday due to health and safety protocols, to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi, Saturday.
Tip-off will be at 4 p.m. from Humphrey Coliseum, with the action streaming on ESPN2.
Contact Declan Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @declanaw.