Florida guard Myreon Jones stole a pass with 1:12 to play Sunday, and the energy in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center felt symbiotic from the floor to the stands.
The Gators retained possession the rest of the game with two more offensive rebounds, the last of their 17 throughout the game. As the clock dwindled towards zeros, the bench, lead by forward Keyontae Johnson, brought all of the Gators faithful in attendance to their feet.
When the final buzzer sounded, Johnson, who collapsed on the floor during Florida’s trip to Tallahassee a season ago, embraced head coach Mike White as the roars of victory rang in the air.
The Gators upset No. 20 Florida State 71-55 Sunday, ending a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry and moving Florida to 2-0 for the young season.
Forward Colin Castleton proved himself as the cornerstone of this year’s team. The senior got it done at both ends of the floor, recording his fourth career double-double with 15 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Castleton added six blocks to his standout statline.
“When we are on defense, I feel like that’s my rim,” Castleton said.
Right out of the gate, Florida looked hungry. Forward Anthony Duruji set the tone, scoring the Gators’ first six points highlighted by a thunderous alley-oop dunk assisted by guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr.
As play progressed, Florida State’s length began to give Florida fits. The Gators got into foul trouble with the half coming to a close, as both Duruji and guard Tyree Appleby picked up two personal fouls and left for the bench. Seminoles forward Malik Osbourne ended the first 20 minutes with a team-leading 12 points, five coming in the last two minutes.
The first half was an intense display of defense from both sides, and baskets were hard to come by. The Seminoles shot 44.0% from the field, while the Gators shot 34.4%. Florida did carry the advantage on the glass, out-rebounding Florida State 21-19. The Gators eventually lost the early lead, but they entered the half trailing by only two, 30-28.
In the second half, Florida blew open the scoring with 43 points, 12 of which came from the free throw line.
Castleton began the half with four straight points, including a dunk, getting the Rowdy Reptiles right back into the game. Guard Brandon McKissic, Jones and Fleming all sank three-pointers as the rivals traded blows.
The opening eight and a half minutes of the second half crawled by, and Florida outscored the Seminoles 15-12 despite FSU guard Wyatt Wilkes’ five points.
Florida State reclaimed a 44-43 lead, its last of the game, after a jumper by guard Matthew Cleveland with just over 11 minutes to play. From there, the Gators took off.
Jones started the action with a steal, driving coast-to-coast. He was unable to lay it in, but Castleton appeared to clean up. Next time down the floor, guard Tyree Appleby floated in the air for an acrobatic finish.
McKissic wanted in on the fun, and the Missouri-Kansas City transfer buried his second three of the game. Florida pulled away, eventually with a 13-0 run.
The Seminoles never recovered, and the offensive explosion only further fed the Gators’ defensive intensity for the rest of the game.
Duruji scored six of Florida’s final 13 points, including another emphatic dunk to salt the game away. The senior tied the team lead with 15 points and 36 minutes played. The frontcourt duo of him and Castleton, which combined for 30 points, offers a solid foundation and gives the Gators high aspirations for March.
“Iron sharpens iron, we make each other better,” Duruji said.
The top-25 win, White’s first victory over Florida State and head coach Leonard Hamilton, could be an early signal of what is to come for the Gators in the 2021-22 season.
“I’m sure that we all had fun,” White said. “But, we’ve all got a lot to get better at. We’ve got a chance to be good, but it’s just so early. We’ve got a lot to learn.”
The Gators’ non-conference schedule continues Nov. 18 when Florida hosts the Milwaukee Panthers.
Contact Joseph Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.