Florida freshman guard Elijah Kennedy cut into the lane after a devious pump fake. He froze the North Florida defense and dropped off a pass to Colin Castleton.
The Gators’ leader rose up and dunked home his 23 and 24th points of the night. Castleton set a new career high Wednesday with 26 points against the Ospreys.
The Gators’ performance was a return to form. No. 20 Florida (7-2) defeated North Florida (2-9), 85-55, behind a stifling defensive effort at home in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Wednesday night.
The resurgence came 48 hours after Florida’s abysmal outing against Texas Southern. The two days worked wonders, as the Gators played with an intensity reminiscent of their rivalry match with Florida State earlier this season.
Gators head coach Mike White wanted to recapture this team’s culture after two straight losses and did so with a team meeting on Tuesday.
“I don’t know if we fully recovered from that road loss at OU until that meeting yesterday afternoon,” White said, referring to the Gators’ 74-67 loss to Oklahoma.
Wednesday’s game plan was the same as any other night: feed No. 12.
Castleton opened the scoring with a jump hook and never slowed down. The Ospreys made Castleton earn his points, as eight of his 14 first-half points came from the free throw line, but he refused to be denied.
Florida’s defense returned to form in the opening 20 minutes. An abundance of North Florida turnovers, 13 of which caused by Gator steals, resulted in a 17-0 Florida advantage in points off turnovers. The Ospreys coughed up the ball 18 times in total.
“We just had to find our identity back,” Florida guard Myreon Jones said. “Getting stops on defense. That’s our identity.”
Jones had the green light early. The Penn State transfer hit his first attempt from behind the arc, but cooled off, missing his next four first half 3-pointers. However, Jones did contribute 10 points before halftime.
Gators guard Tyree Appleby paced the team with three first half steals off the bench. On one occasion he picked off an Osprey’s outlet pass and took it coast to coast, stepping through the lane for a finger roll finish.
Appleby was an energizer during his 11 minutes. The senior clamped North Florida guard Emmanuel Adedoyin before racing to the rim and trying to rip it off.
The Gators looked far from sluggish, leading the Ospreys by 18 as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms.
Florida’s foot was on the gas in the first half, but when the second half began, the pedal was stomped through the floor. The last 20 minutes became an all-out onslaught from UF to close the game.
The Gators shot the ball exceptionally well out of the break. They were 12-17 from the field with 8:50 remaining in the game, including two 3-pointers.
With 9:57 left to play, center Jason Jitoboh rose up for a strong put-back slam over top of his own teammate, forward Anthony Duruji.
“He put it on his [Duruji’s] head,” Castleton said.
The 305-pound junior was able to spell Castleton for seven minutes but ultimately fouled out.
“It’s been a long time since he logged a few minutes in a row,” White said about Jitoboh. “[He] will continue to, if he works, earn minutes. And the more minutes he earns he’ll be able to play a little bit more cleanly defensively.”
Duruji logged 19 minutes himself but only scored five points. The senior was an efficient two-for-four from the floor, though, scoring his buckets on back-to-back possessions five minutes into the second half
Florida freshman Kennedy and Kowacie Reeves left it all on the floor during their playing time. Both guards played over 10 minutes for only the second time in their young careers.
Reeves made pleasantly of hustle plays, even diving at the halfcourt line for a free ball. Meanwhile, Kennedy scored four points and did it with style. The Virginia native scooped in a reverse layup and threw down a tomahawk dunk.
“It’s a long season,” Jones said. “We might have to go deep in the bench. Doing stuff like that you can trust them, put them in there anytime.”
Florida is headed north Sunday for a showdown with the Maryland Terrapins in Brooklyn, New York. The game inside the Barclays Center is set for a 4:30 p.m. tip.
Contact Joseph Henry at email@example.com. 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.