South Florida guard Jamir Chaplin drove hard to the basket, where he was met by Florida guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr., who ferociously denied the sophomore’s layup attempt.
On the ensuing Gators’ possession, with just over five minutes to play in the game, Florida guard Myreon Jones charged into the lane and missed a layup. As the ball hung above the rim, Florida forward Colin Castleton rose up, and, in one swift motion, forced the ball down through the net.
With that basket, Castleton notched 12 points for the day, and a few rebounds later, the big man secured his fifth double-double of the season. The dominant performance earned Castleton the Orange Bowl MVP award.
Florida (8-3) made its 22nd appearance in the Orange Bowl Classic in Sunrise, Florida, Saturday and defeated the South Florida Bulls (4-5), 66-55. The victory steers UF clear of a second consecutive loss following a dramatic defeat at the hands of Maryland last Sunday.
Despite the return to the Sunshine State, the Gators started the game cold as ice, going one-for-nine from the field through the opening six minutes of the game.
“We got some good looks early, which actually surprised me,” Florida head coach Mike White said. “They didn’t go in.”
Fleming broke through for UF’s first points with a 3-pointer off the bench as South Florida extended a 10-3 lead. White elected to call a timeout.
Out of the break, the Gators woke up.
Florida center Jason Jitoboh converted a layup to kick off a seven-point spurt from the Gators in less than a minute. Florida guards Brandon McKissic and Tyree Appleby contributed as well, the former hitting from beyond the arch and the later throwing down a dunk off a steal to tie the game at 10.
The Gators and Bulls traded baskets as the first half wore on. The game sat tied once more when Florida guard Kowacie Reeves banked in a 3-pointer evening the score at 16.
Reeves’ make sparked a 17-2 Florida run to finish the opening 20 minutes. With 2:05 remaining before the half, the Gators’ leading scorer, Castleton, finally got in on the action. The forward worked the pick-and-roll with McKissic for a clear lane and a slam. Castleton averaged 15 points a game ahead of the contest but only scored three in the first half, adding four rebounds.
Florida took a 12-point advantage and a load of momentum into the locker room. In the first half, nine Gators filled up the scoring column.
Duruji began the second half with six straight Florida points. The senior splashed in a 3-pointer and then got three more the old-fashioned way. Duruji was the first Gator to enter double-figures scoring.
“[Duruji] played with reckless abandon at times,” White said. “Threw his body around.”
As Florida entered a slump, the Bulls began to get going. South Florida guard Jake Boggs put up nine points in four minutes, and USF drew within eight, 46-38.
After Castleton hit two free throws, South Florida kept pushing the Gators with seven straight points. A 3-pointer by USF guard Javon Greene brought the Bulls down just three.
Florida weathered the storm and regained control of the game with a Myreon Jones three-point play. Castleton gained leverage down low and began to build back Florida’s lead from the free throw line. The senior finished the game six-for-eight behind the charity stripe.
Fleming hit the final dagger from deep, a 3-pointer with 1:09 remaining to reestablish Florida’s lead to double figures.
The Gators ended the game shooting 39% from the field and won despite 17 turnovers.
“To be honest we’ve been struggling this year with field goal percentage,” Castleton said. “You really can’t control when the ball actually goes in. So you can control how hard you play on defense, if you rebound, all the little stuff that helps you actually win games.”
Florida held a significant advantage on the glass, out-rebounding South Florida 45-27.
“We talked about coming into this game that we can be a little bit more physical,” Duruji said. “Offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, that helps us flow into offense.”
Non-conference play comes to a close next Wednesday when Florida hosts Stony Brook. That game inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center tips off at 2 p.m. and can be streamed on SEC Network +.
Contact Joseph Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.
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.