When Mike White spoke to his team after it’s 75-70 over Virginia Tech, he said the second half was a microcosm of Florida’s turbulent and difficult season.
Florida guard Tyree Appleby took an errant elbow to the face and suffered a six-point implosion to end regulation. But as UF weathered the storm Friday and Tre Mann ensured victory with a stepback three.
Once the celebrations died down and the Gators returned to their bubble, Florida basketball received a rare gift. Oral Roberts removed a buckeye-shaped roadblock to the Sweet 16 as they shocked Ohio State 75-72. The Eagles garnered adoration and bracket-busting ire from the college basketball world, but the Gators are now faced with an unexpected question: What is Oral Roberts?
Guard Noah Locke admitted Saturday that he didn’t know Oral Roberts’ location, conference affiliation or that it had the nation’s leading scorer before the Eagles’ stunning victory.
However, Florida coach Mike White praised ORU boss Paul Mills and waxed lyrically about the Eagles offense.
“(They’re) incredibly dangerous,” White said. “(They’re) one of the most difficult matchups for us defensively all year.”
Oral Roberts’ potency stems from its spacing and star guard Max Abnas, who leads the country in points per game with 24.4. The sophomore also leads ORU with 3.5 assists per game and shoots the ball efficiently at every level.
But Abnas’ torrid shooting spread throughout the entire team, as the entire Eagles lineup can knock down shots from the perimeter.
“They all shoot it,” White said. “Their top six can all pass, dribble and shoot. They just space you and spread you, which opens up driving lanes for arguably the fastest guy in our game.”
Center Colin Castleton ascended like a phoenix after a run of quiet games against Virginia Tech. The junior’s 19 points and 14 rebounds Friday willed UF to an overtime victory, and he’ll be asked to exploit another undersized center Sunday.
Kevin Obanor functions as ORU’s second leading scorer and rains three’s at a scorching 45% clip. However, Castleton is three inches taller than the Eagle center, which should create interesting matchups on both ends of the floor.
“It’s an unorthodox defensive task for guys like him,” White said about Castleton’s matchup Sunday. “It’s going to be very difficult for our bigger guys to be in rotations and to be guarding one-on-one on the perimeter.”
Obanor’s diminutive build and poor shot blocker suggests that Castleton would be the focal point of the UF offense, but White preaches caution.
“A lot will depend on how we execute our stuff and how selflessly we play, how good he (Castleton) is on the offensive glass, and how he has defended,” White said.
For the UF players, while Sunday’s matchup doesn’t have the same billing as the expected matchup against the Ohio State, they understand how dangerous Oral Roberts is.
“We can’t underestimate them,” Locke said. “A great team and they beat another great team, so I mean if they can beat them obviously they’re a really good team.”
A victory in Sunday’s game allows UF to advance one stage farther than it did two years ago. Locke and junior Keyontae Johnson are the only two Gators that reached the Round of 32 in 2019.
However, while Locke will take the floor as Florida’s sharpshooter Johnson is confined to the socially-distant bench for Sunday’s contest. Locke discussed Johnson’s influence on the team and how they’re playing for Keyontae.
“I’m pretty sure winning’s on everyone’s mind, knowing we could do it for him and this is where he’d want to be,” Locke said. “So we want to give him this experience also.”
Florida’s opportunity for it’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2017 will tip-off at 7:45 p.m. at Indiana Farmers Colliseum. The game will broadcast on TruTV.