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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

No. 23 Gators dismantle Golden Bears in Fort Myers

Florida opened up a 19-point lead at halftime and never looked back

Florida's Anthony Duruji rises toward the hoop with the ball during Florida's Nov. 14 game against Florida State.
Florida's Anthony Duruji rises toward the hoop with the ball during Florida's Nov. 14 game against Florida State.

Florida guard Niels Lane soared high above the rim as the seconds dwindled down Monday night. 

The sophomore's emphatic dunk earned him a technical foul. Nevertheless, Lane’s jam was the final note of a symphonic performance by the Gators. 

Game one of the Fort Myers Tip-Off proved swarming defense is quickly becoming Florida’s identity. The No. 23 Gators (4-0) forced 18 California turnovers on their way to an 80-60 win over the Golden Bears (2-3). 

The action was intense right from the opening tip. Only five seconds into the game, Florida guard Tyree Appleby threw up a half-court lob to forward Colin Castleton to start the scoring. 

Despite the explosive start, points were hard to come by in the initial stages of the game. Gators forward Anthony Duruji broke through the defensive battle for a five-point spurt. The senior drilled a 3-pointer before cleaning up an offensive rebound for a thunderous put-back slam. 

With 8:36 to play in the first half, the score was knotted at 17. Once Florida guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. stepped to the penalty stripe and broke the tie, the Gators never trailed again. The graduate student’s free throws started a 13-4 Florida run. 

“Our energy level just picked up,” Gators head coach Mike White said. “[It was] our first time playing away from home, you know, without our fans in Exactech Arena screaming for us. So it took a little while to adjust.’ 

The Gators built a lead and momentum as the halftime buzzer neared. Perhaps the biggest contributor was Florida guard Myreon Jones. The Penn State transfer caught fire from behind the arc, making three 3-pointers in a minute and 34 seconds. 

Jones led the Gators in scoring with 11 points as the team headed into the locker room up 46-27. Florida was six of 11 from 3-point range and 14-15 from the charity stripe at the half. 

Gators guard Brandon McKissic and Appleby kept the momentum in Florida’s favor when the final 20 minutes began. The backcourt duo scored the first four points of the second half. 

Moments later, Appleby took a shot to his gut while contending for a rebound. He fell to the court with his hands around his head. The Arkansas native was checked on by trainers and White before slowly walking off the floor under his own power. Freshman Elijah Kennedy filled in for Appleby for a few minutes before the senior returned to the court. 

Castleton stands an imposing 6-foot-11. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he glided down the floor in transition after he stole a pass from California guard Joel Brown. Castleton earned his floor general badge with a beautiful bounce pass to his frontcourt partner, Duruji, who undoubtedly slammed it home. 

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“It felt good being able to push the ball up the court. It felt like I was six foot for a second,” Castleton said. “ [Duruji] runs like a trackstar, so I only had to take like two or three dribbles and I saw him sprinting for the ball, and I knew he was gonna dunk it as soon as I passed it.” 

The Gators played the remainder of the game with the comfort of a large cushion on the scoreboard but never let up their defensive intensity. 

Florida shut down California forward Andre Kelly. The senior averaged a double-double on the season before Monday with 16.8 points and 11 rebounds, leading the Golden Bears in both categories. Against Florida, he was held to nine points and two rebounds. 

While the Gators defense is getting deserved praise, the offense put up 80 points for the second time in as many games. Florida shot 51.9% from the field and 42.1% from three. 

“The overall level of unselfishness we continue to talk about is important for good offense,” White said. 

Florida will get another prime opportunity to continue building confidence at the start of this young season Wednesday. The Fort Myers Tip-Off championship game pits the Gators against the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

That game begins at 8:30 p.m. inside Suncoast Credit Union Arena and can be watched on FS1. 

Contact Joseph Henry at Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper. 

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