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Friday, August 12, 2022

Florida debuts New Year with loss to Crimson Tide

Alabama runs away in second half to escape O’Dome with double-digit win

<p>Florida&#x27;s Colin Castleton goes up for a shot during a Nov. 14 game against Florida State. The center scored a game-high 19 points Wednesday against Alabama. </p>

Florida's Colin Castleton goes up for a shot during a Nov. 14 game against Florida State. The center scored a game-high 19 points Wednesday against Alabama.

As buckets drained during a decisive 14-0 Alabama run, the hopes and cheers of Florida’s sprightly fanbase started to dim.

The Rowdy Reptiles lived up to their reputation in the first half, boisterously backing the Gators to a surprising halftime lead over the No. 13 Crimson Tide. But in just three minutes, UA’s dynamic offense silenced the O’Connell Center crowd and built a 15-point lead with handsy defense and devastating fast-break offense.

The Gators sparked a 15-8 run late in the second half thanks to successful three-point tries  from guard Myreon Jones and forward CJ Felder. The shots fell but the run failed to affect a winning result. With 1:34 left in the game, Crimson Tide forward Juwan Gary shushed the Florida faithful with a one-hand throwdown at the rim.

Florida walked off the court with their heads low after the clocks hit zero and the score read as an 83-70 triumph for the Crimson Tide.

Although the Gators drew close, the quest for a double-digit comeback could’ve been avoided if not for a sluggish start in the second half. Head coach Mike White failed to deduce what caused the slip.

“It’s hard for me right? I mean, we got to come out in the second half throwing haymakers like we did at the tip of the game,” White said. “I loved our energy level at the tip, (I) thought we played really hard for 20 (minutes).”

But White came to his final conclusion that “(Alabama) just had their mojo going on the offensive glass.”

The Florida coach did praise his team’s efforts to make a desperate climb in the final minutes.

“We got some high character guys who just continue to fight,” White said. "I want to say it was a two or three-possession game pretty late, It could’ve continued chipping away and I thought our guys continued to fight.”

Early in the game, Felder finished a two-hand slam to posterize two unsuspecting Alabama defenders at the 15:49 mark of the first half. Felder kept his eyes locked on the Crimson Tide bench after head coach Nate Oats called his first timeout.The Boston College transfer continued his hot shooting and went on to finish with a season-high 12 points off the bench on top of six rebounds.

Myreon Jones started the game for Florida but failed to find his footing in the opening minutes.. The six-foot-three senior shot 3-8 from downtown in the second half and reeled in seven rebounds in the Gators loss. Jones scored the first points of the game at the rim, and the unlikely scoring duo of Felder and backup center Jason Jitoboh carried Florida to a competitive start against the top-15 Tide. 

Jitoboh earned increased playtime and immediately made his presence felt when he checked onto the court. The 6-foot, 11-inch big man never flinched and forced a block in the paint then battled for a successful and-one the following possession. Another layup from Jitoboh and a vicious dunk from Felder saw the Gators enter the first media timeout tied at nine. 

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Senior forward Anthony Duruji, center Colin Castleton and Jitoboh combined their defensive efforts to tally six blocks.

Castleton finished with a convincing performance, totaling a team-high 19 points along with seven rebounds. The Preseason All-SEC selection willed the Gators to a three-point halftime lead, scoring ten points and grabbing three offensive rebounds. A pair of Castleton free throws took the Gators into the locker room shooting nearly 50% from the field.

The two teams battled evenly through the first media timeout of the second half, but the Crimson Tide’s 14-0 put the Gators on the back foot throughout the rest of the contest. A Castleton slam drew the Gators within two possessions at the 3:40 mark, and a ferocious Gator fight back looked poised to set up a photo finish at the O’Connell Center. However, back-to-back Juwan Gary layups consigned the Gators to an SEC-opening defeat

The Florida Gators hit the road to redemption Saturday against the Auburn Tigers in Auburn, Alabama. The matchup is set for an 8 p.m. tip-off and will be broadcast on ESPN 2.

Contact Jesse Richardson at jrichardson@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JesseRich352.

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