When the first half concluded, Colin Castleton had a bucket and two personal fouls off the bench.
Five minutes into the second half, the lanky junior forward had 17 points. Behind Castleton’s dominant surge off the pine, the Gators overpowered the LSU Tigers 83-79 Saturday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
After a slow first half marred with foul trouble, the Michigan transfer pummeled the Tigers in the paint with 15-straight points to open the second frame. He finished with 21 points to lead Florida to victory and was one of four Gators to dip into double-digit scoring. While Castleton came off the bench to begin the game, he didn’t miss much action once he caught fire during the final 20 minutes.
Florida is 2-0 after returning to the court following star junior forward Keyontae Johnson’s collapse during an 83-71 loss against FSU Dec. 12.
UF and LSU ended the first frame tied at 40-40, but both teams took two different paths to reach a stalemate at the halfway point.
The Gators took to the paint to even things up after the first 20 minutes. Florida outpaced LSU by a score of 18-14 in the paint by halftime, which was a change of pace from a team that has relied on letting it fly from deep.
With Florida shooting just 3-11 from behind the arc, the Gators were forced to rely on their inside game to pick up the slack. UF nailed 12 of 15 two-point field goals in the first frame, with all but two of their 40 first-half points coming from their starting five. Castleton came off the bench for a lone bucket before exploding in the second half.
The Tigers made their living from three in the first half, shooting a comfortable 5-8 from deep. LSU also led UF in second-chance points (7-6) and fastbreak points (4-0), with freshman guard Cameron Thomas leading the Tigers in scoring with 13.
Castleton just about did it all for the Gators in the second half. After getting tagged with two early personal fouls and netting just two points after the first frame, it looked like Florida would have to rely on its starting five for the final 20 minutes as well.
All the 6-foot-11-inch statue did was explode for 19 second-half points and six rebounds. The tallest man on Florida’s roster was a force in the paint, slamming home multiple jams at the rim and taking care of business at the freethrow line, going 7-7 from the charity stripe.
Gators coach Mike White lauded Castleton for being in the right spots.
“He’s a talented guy,” he said. “He’s really skilled. We’ve gotten better at finding him and Omar [Payne] in their spots. We’ve got to get him more minutes.”
Two other stand-out individuals who helped push Florida to victory in the second half were sophomore guard Tre Mann and junior forward Anthony Duruji, who put up 19 and 16 respectively. Mann led the Gators’ three-point push, going 3-6 from 22-plus.
Duruji contributed 16 points to finish fourth on the team in scoring and led the Gators with seven rebounds. Six of his boards came on the offensive end, helping Florida outpace LSU 18-14 in second-half points.
“Every time a shot goes up, I’m just trying to give my team more opportunities to get more points,” he said.
LSU had three players join the 20-point club Saturday afternoon, led by Thomas’ 28 with 15 in the second half. Sophomore forward Trendon Watford and junior guard Javontae Smart netted 21 and 20 to complement Thomas’ dominant game.
Coach White lauded Thomas’ performance as a shooter, saying he hit some really tough shots to keep the Tigers afloat amid Castleton and the Gators’ second-half surge.
On top of being a deep threat, Thomas carried the Tigers from behind the three-point line as well, going a perfect 11-11 to highlight LSU’s 22-25 masterpiece on free-throw tries.
Florida will take a three-day break in action before returning to the hardwood Tuesday against Alabama at 7 p.m.
Contact Dylan O'Shea at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @dylanoshea24