A knotted scoreboard at halftime shrunk Monday night’s game into a 20-minute window.
The in-state clash between Florida and Florida Atlantic turned into a game of runs and retaliation. The lead fluctuated consistently in the second half, but it was the Owls lights-out shooting from deep range that made the difference.
The Gators (2-1) dropped their first game of the season to FAU (2-1) 76-74 inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Owls overcame a 30-point and 12-rebound performance from Florida forward Colin Castleton — his first double-double of the season — by hitting 13 3-pointers on 24 attempts.
“They were so efficient, you know, 54%,” UF head coach Todd Golden said. “We just got bombed out tonight.”
Florida was carried by guard Kyle Lofton in the early moments; the graduate transfer scored the first four points for the Gators. As both sides settled into the game, UF extended its offense beyond the arc.
Guard Kowacie Reeves drilled a 3-pointer. Then, on the next possession, Castleton hit the first 3-point shot of his career. The Gators lead extended to seven points, 10-3. A run by the Owls ensued, however, as they scored eight-straight points to get out front, 11-10.
Lofton got two points back at the free-throw line and got the Gators back ahead. The Owls quickly responded, though, with their third and fourth 3-pointers of the night. FAU led 17-14 with 9:45 remaining in the first half.
Once Castleton checked back into the game, he began to establish the paint — on both ends of the floor — as his own. The 6-foot-11 forward picked up three the hard way with a tough finish through contact and a free throw. Castleton drew the game even at 17, and he kept it that way with another block.
At a media timeout with 7:49 to play until halftime, Castleton led Florida in points, blocks and free throws made.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Golden said. “It’s pretty clear.”
Guard Will Richard was the fourth Florida player to log a basket in the first half. He hit a layup and two free throws, but the Owls continued to pull ahead by making 3-pointers. Florida Atlantic hit four shots from deep in the final six minutes of the first half.
One of those threes quickly silenced the Florida crowd after Lofton connected with sophomore Alex Fudge for a high-flying alley-oop slam. With halftime drawing near, the pace of the game increased.
The two teams scored a combined 22 points in just the final four minutes of the half. Thanks to a buzzer-beating tip-in from Fudge, the Gators and Owls headed to their respective locker rooms tied at 35.
Florida shot just 30.6% from the field compared to FAU’s slightly more efficient 34.3%. The Owls did most of their damage from 3-point range, making eight of 13 attempts in the opening 20 minutes.
It was all Gators and all Castleton to begin the second half. In just five minutes, Florida outscored Florida Atlantic 13-4 and eight of those points belonged to Castleton.
The Owls looked to combat UF’s hot start to the half with a full-court press. While it stifled the Gators for one possession, the next time down the floor Lofton splashed in his second 3-pointer of the game.
FAU answered with an 11-2 scoring run. Eventually, Castleton stopped the bleeding, but the damage was already done, and Florida’s lead was just three. A finish with heavy contact inside by Owls guard Brandon Weatherspoon — his first points of the game — cut UF’s lead to one. A 3-pointer from Alijiah Martin — his second of the game — put FAU ahead 57-55.
Florida went on a scoring drought for 3:53 minutes while the Owls continued to stretch their advantage. Castleton snapped the skid, but Florida Atlantic remained relentless. FAU poured in 11 straight points and grew its lead to 14 with 4:48 to play.
Reeves wasn’t going to let Florida go down without a fight. He drilled back-to-back triples from opposite corners to ignite his team and the O’Dome crowd. Florida had the game within six points.
“Big time shots,” Golden said.
In the final minute FAU was assessed a technical foul for calling a timeout when it had none remaining. Richard stepped to the charity stripe and hit two shots. Seconds continued to tick off the clock as the Gators trailed 75-71 and began to foul the Owls in hopes to claw back into the game.
Richard hit a last-gasp three to give Florida fans hope, but a jump ball on the ensuing inbound handed possession to FAU. The Gators first loss under Golden was sealed.
“There was a collective understanding we have to be better moving forward,” he said.
UF gets an immediate bounce-back opportunity Friday when it travels west to Tallahassee to face the Florida State Seminoles. Tip off against FSU is set for 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.
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.