The orange and blue darted down the court after an Elon turnover by junior Zac Ervin. Forward Anthony Duruji leapt into the air at the 3-point line securing a bucket to open up the season.
It signaled the return of Florida Gators men’s basketball.
The Gators squared off against the Elon Phoenix Tuesday at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The home team seemed eager to keep head coach Mike White’s winning record in season openers alive. And it did just that with a 74-61 win over Elon.
Colin Castleton, the team’s resident big man, wouldn’t be denied on either end of the court. Castleton made his name known as he fought his way through traffic all the way to the rim. The senior recorded 18 points and six blocks.
Keyontae Johnson, also known as “Coach Key,” and center Jason Jitoboh danced courtside to celebrate.
The Phoenix struggled to find a rhythm early, but it refused to back down. After a scoreless two minutes, junior Hunter Woods broke the seal with a 3-point jumper to make the game 12-11 UF.
Hunter McIntosh, the glue that holds Elon together, melted under pressure. The Rowdy Reptiles chanted “air ball” every time the guard touched the ball. While he recorded 15 points it wasn’t enough.
On the other bench, UF’s Myreon Jones couldn’t seem to find his mojo. The guard was 1-6 from the field, 0-3 from behind the 3-point line and 1-2 from the charity stripe in the first half and was arguably frustrated.
“I let it come to me,” Jones said about the second half. “I did it through the offense we [were] running –I didn’t force it.”
At the half, Florida led 47-24, and Jones proved he transferred to UF to put on a show.
The senior drilled home a 3-point shot while Jerald Gillens-Butler fouled him as he fell gracefully to the court. Jones lifted his arms ceremoniously as he not only recorded a three, but also the free throw for the four-point play.
The Gators appeared trigger happy from the 3-point line, making 33.3% in the second half. But Elon’s defense turned up the heat causing seven turnovers in the final 20 minutes.
Then came back-to-back missed dunks from both squads: First Castleton and then center Andrew Junkin left both big men unsatisfied and evidently frustrated.
The Phoenix slowly crept up on the Gators and began to get snappy. White’s defense failed to adjust allowing 37 points to be scored by its foe in the second half.
Guard Kowacie Reeves lobbed an apple to set forward Tuongthach Gatkek up for a dunk -- the entire O’Dome erupted.
“He’s got a high level of focus,” White said. “He’s going to be a really good player.”
White said he foresees Reeves will earn more playing time throughout the year.
Even after an aggressive second half, taunts from the crowd in Gainesville haunted Elon as The Pride of the Sunshine played them out.
However, White said the Gators played for 20 minutes, not 40, which he said is out of character.
“We let our foot off the gas pedal and didn’t play with a lot of maturity,” he said.
Castleton agreed. The Deland, Florida, native said the orange and blue played harder in the first half.
“We have a lot of things to work on,” he said. “[We’ve] got to get better because Sunday if we play that way, we’re going to get blown out.”
Florida returns to the O’Dome Sunday at 1 p.m. to take on No. 20 Florida State.
Karina Wilson is a second-year student at the University of Florida within the College of Journalism and Communications with a specialization in sports and media. She aims to produce engaging, accurate and current content for all types of sports fans. Currently, Karina is The Alligator's lacrosse beat writer.