Four seconds remained.
Guard Myreon Jones hurled the rubber ball to guard Tyree Appleby. The senior leapt into the air and launched the ball towards the basket. The swoosh of the basket at the buzzer sent the entire Gators bench onto the court to mob the senior.
“It was like a movie,” Appleby said. “It’s probably one of the best moments of my college career, really my life.”
Florida emerged victorious.
The No. 23 Florida Gators (5-0) slipped past the Ohio State Buckeyes (5-2) 71-68 Wednesday in Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida. With the win, the Gators claimed the title of Fort Myers Tip-Off champions.
Florida head coach Mike White’s squad looked sluggish and started slow early. Ohio State scored the first four points to assert dominance.
UF guard Brandon McKissic came to play. The graduate student throttled the ball back into play to keep possession for the Gators.
Defense defined the game, which was nothing out of the ordinary for Florida, but Ohio State kept up.
“Our team prides ourselves on defense, that’s what we do,” Appleby said. “If a team wants to bring that physicality back, that’s fine.”
Eventually, a fire lit under the Gators. The orange and blue sprinted away with a 9-0 run to take their first lead of the night.
All-American E.J. Liddell captained the Buckeyes with 23 points throughout 33 minutes. The junior boasted five rebounds and five blocks.
With a buzzer-beater, forward CJ Felder dunked to close out the half, slicing Ohio State’s lead to six.
Graduate transfer Phlandrous Fleming Jr. kept the ball rolling for UF to start the final frame. But the elation didn’t last long, as a lob to Ohio State fifth-year senior Kyle Young hushed the sea of orange and blue.
“We could be so much better,” Fleming said. “Luckily, we scrapped this one out and got the win.”
Forward Colin Castleton swatted the ball out of the air for an early block in the second half. Castleton recorded his sixth career double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Florida’s reliance on the big man earned him the title of tournament MVP and a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
But the sea of Gators fans were swallowed by the traveling scarlet and red fans as fouls failed Florida. And UF lost its composure.
A dunk from OSU’s Zed Key granted the Buckeyes a 47-37 lead, their largest of the game.
However, the Gators wouldn’t back down. A no-look behind the back pass from Castleton fed Felder to give the No. 23 team some momentum.
Loud and proud Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann earned a technical foul, allowing Fleming to capitalize on four shots for Florida, and the Gators drew closer.
As the second half slowly came to a close, forward Anthony Duruji saw an opportunity to make a bucket. The senior took two steps, ascended towards the net before dunking the leather ball into the hoop. The tie-ball game put UF back on track.
“Let’s go Gators,” rang throughout Suncoast Credit Union Arena, and Liddell’s last-minute jumper got swallowed with the noise. He couldn’t save the sinking Ohio State squad as the final stellar play from Jones and Appleby sent the scarlet and grey back to The Buckeye State.
Fleming said the intensity was there the whole ball game. He said they were determined to win this game.
“It was crazy,” Fleming said. “We kept telling everybody ‘Believe, believe, believe.’”
The guard and Appleby both earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
“We’ve got a tough, gritty team,” Appleby said. “I don’t really think [anybody] else in the country is going to be as tough as we are night in and night out.”
White agreed. He said the team overcame adversity.
“A tough-nose group that just found a way,” he said. “Hopefully, our fans enjoyed what they saw.”
The Gators return home Sunday to square off against the Troy University Trojans. Tip off is set for noon in the O’Dome.
Karina Wilson is a third-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 men’s basketball beat writer.