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Friday, July 01, 2022

LSU edges Florida in the O’Dome, Gators still winless in SEC play

Forward Colin Castleton and the Gators offense can’t handle the Tigers in the paint.

<p>Florida&#x27;s Colin Castleton celebrates during a Dec. 8 game against North Florida. The center scored a team-high 19 points against LSU Wednesday.</p>

Florida's Colin Castleton celebrates during a Dec. 8 game against North Florida. The center scored a team-high 19 points against LSU Wednesday.

With the clock frozen at one minute, senior guard Myreon Jones took the inbound pass from forward Colin Castleton. The Penn State transfer found forward Anthony Duruji on the low block, who transformed an underhand layup to a lob back towards the top of the key.

Guard Brandon McKissic found himself in acres of space beyond the arc, and the senior hoisted a straight-on three that would cut Florida’s deficit to a single point and send the Rowdy Reptiles into delirium. 

Another miss.

From free throws to 3-pointers, the Gators failed to circumvent their woes and stack points against one of the top defenses in the nation.

The battle concluded and the Gators fell 64-58 to the Tigers, dropping their third consecutive conference matchup. Florida found ways to pierce the elite LSU defense, but the Tigers’ dominance in the paint proved to be the downfall of White’s squad.

Castleton thrived against the LSU interior despite the loss finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and three signature blocks at the rim.

Graduate guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. shared 3-point duties with Jones as the transfers combined to go 5-17 from behind the arc.

Castleton claimed the opening tip but the loose ball floated into the hands of LSU forward Darius Days. The deafening tones of the Rowdy Reptiles fell to a decrescendo as Days gave the rock a dribble and laid in the opening basket with a finger roll finish.

Days led the LSU offense with 20 points and suffocated the Gators to a five-point deficit early in the opening half. The Tiger’s spurt influenced White to call his first timeout.

The score rested at a 25-13 LSU lead until Florida found new energy with 07:45 remaining in the first half. Castleton provided six points to nurture a 15-7 run and brought the Rowdy Reptiles to their feet with a monstrous put-back slam after a missed corner 3-pointer by Jones.

LSU escaped to the locker room up 38-30, surviving the Gators onslaught in the final minutes of the opening 20. 

Florida’s attempts from downtown were erratic in the first half, shooting 1-9 in the opening 15 minutes of play. However, the Gators did close the half with two makes from McKissic and Fleming.

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Meanwhile, the Tigers tore up the paint to begin the game, outmuscling Florida to tally 24 points on the inside and winning the battle on the glass 18-15.

The Gators were down but the team’s heart still swelled. Florida began to shower more 3-pointers from the wing with the streaky shooting of Jones and McKissic igniting small scoring spurts and slashing into the LSU lead. 

LSU shot out of the break with three consecutive baskets to recommence the run in closing seconds of first half. But Duruji turned the table with a posterizing two-hand slam to shift the energy in the O’Dome.

Florida found a miraculous 21-12 run lasting over 12 minutes featuring long-range haymakers from Fleming and Jones. Castleton snaked his way through the frontcourt to finish three contested layups as well as two successful trips to the line.

Although the desperate heaves were making a dent in the score margin, the Tigers’ shot accuracy enhanced while Florida’s deflated. LSU shot 47.1% from the field to open the game and finished the contest at a sweltering 55%.

On the other hand, Florida’s field goal percentage plummeted from half-to-half to 9.4%. The Gators finished with a season-low 36.4%.

Anthony Duruji and Castleton are aware of their vices and want to own up.

“I think it's all mental, like I said, we have to be accountable,” Duruji said. “We're good basketball players. We just got to get better and to be confident in ourselves.”

Castleton shares a similar view, but also carries a glass-half-full attitude for the rest of the season.

“It’s a long season. We’re playing a good team, but we're a good team too,” Castleton said. “We know how capable we are, we just got to continue to get better, and it shows out there. You know it's a close game, but it's hard to win. We got to learn how to win and we got to continue to piece everything together. But we're getting closer but we just got to keep on climbing. Trust in the process.”

The players have a chin-up mentality, but the positive mantra only means so much when there’s a shortfall of production on the floor.

The Gators’ loss can also be attributed to an abysmal performance from the foul line. The team shot 50% when given the opportunity at the charity stripe. LSU tallied a more-confident 63.6 percent at the free throw line. 

White now holds a 7-4 record against the Tigers and is 4-4 when the final score margin is separated by six points or fewer.

Florida is limping like a wounded dog following a conference gauntlet of top-25 teams, but a slate of three obtainable matchups line up for the midpoint of January. 

First, the Gators will visit the South Carolina Gamecocks (10-5) on Saturday, then travel back to Gainesville to challenge the Mississippi State Bulldogs (10-4) and the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-6).

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

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