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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Gators topple No. 2 Tennessee by double digits

Castleton finished with 20 points in upset victory

Florida forward Colin Castleton dribbles the ball down the court in the Gators' 81-60 victory against the South Carolina Gamecocks Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.
Florida forward Colin Castleton dribbles the ball down the court in the Gators' 81-60 victory against the South Carolina Gamecocks Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

The Gators trailed by one point midway through the second half against the No. 2 Tennessee Volunteers. 

UF graduate student forward Colin Castleton took over and scored 10 points during an 18-3 Gators run. Florida never looked back and upset the Volunteers at home.

The Florida Gators (13-9, 6-3 SEC) defeated the Volunteers (18-4, 7-2 SEC) 67-54 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Wednesday night. The Gators held the Volunteers to 28% from the field and 20% from beyond the arc.

Castleton led the Gators in scoring with 20 points on 6-13 shooting. Lofton followed with 14 points on 4-6 shooting. UF finished the game 44% from the field and 35% from deep. 

Florida head coach Todd Golden said the win was affirmation the Gators can beat anybody, he said.

“It’s not a potential thing anymore,” Golden said. “We can beat a top team in the country.” 

Florida graduate student guard Myreon Jones found graduate student guard Kyle Lofton down low for an easy layup, UF’s first points of the game. 

The Gators connected from deep early, with Jones and sophomore guard Will Richard knocking down UF’s first two 3-point attempts. 

Castleton then scored down low to give Florida its eighth straight point. Sophomore forward Alex Fudge battled down low and made a layup to push UF’s run to 10-0.

The Volunteers failed to score for nearly seven minutes after their two early baskets. The scoring drought included three Tennessee turnovers. 

Florida junior guard Trey Bonham continued the run with a transition 3-pointer after a Lofton steal. The Gators were 5-7 over the 15-0 run. 

The early run was crucial to Florida’s victory, Golden said. 

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“You don’t win that game without that start,” he said.

Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua ended Florida’s run with a layup. Nkamhoua’s next attempt was blocked by UF senior center Jason Jitoboh on the following possession.

The Volunteers cut Florida’s lead to single digits midway through the first half after Nkamhoua caught a lob for a dunk. He sank a 3-pointer on the next play. 

Florida sophomore guard Kowacie Reeves scored a mid-range jumper to end UT’s run. The teams exchanged baskets as Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler quickly finished a layup on the other end. 

Tennessee forward Julian Phillips drained a floater to cut the Gators’ lead to just five points. Jones hit a floater of his own on the next play. The Volunteers continued to find space down low and cut the lead to three late in the first half.

Nkamhoua finished a reverse layup against Castleton to cap off a 6-0 run. The Gators’ hot start stalled, and UF went on a four-minute-long scoring drought.

Richard made a 3-pointer to end Tennessee’s run and Florida’s streak of misses. Fudge drove to the basket in the final seconds and dunked the ball to give the Gators a 27-21 lead at halftime.

Tennessee finished the first half on a four-minute-long scoring drought and missed its last seven shots of the first half. 

Zeigler started the second half with a mid-range jumper. Lofton answered with a wide-open corner three. 

The Gators’ defense stood tall early in the second half as Castleton blocked Zeigler’s shot, and Jones sent back UT guard Santiago Vescovi’s shot in consecutive possessions. 

Phillips drew contact on a jumper and finished a three-point play to bring Tennessee within one early in the second period. Florida failed to score for four minutes as the Volunteers carved into UF’s lead. 

Bonham ended the streak of misses with a pair of free throws. The Gators' offense continued to stagnate after the free throws; it missed its next five shots. 

Zeigler knocked down his first triple to tie the game, but Castleton dunked the ball on the other end to restore Florida’s lead. Zeigler gave the Volunteers a one-point lead with another triple on the following possession.

Tennessee forward Jonas Aidoo extended the Volunteers’ lead to three with a layup. Vescovi pushed the run to 6 in a row after hitting three shots from the charity stripe.

Castleton scored a pair of free throws to keep the game close. The Gators got back to the free-throw line again after Lofton drew a foul and drained both shots. 

Zeigler found space for a floater on the next play. Jones answered the bucket with a triple from the top of the arc. Kugel finished a fast-break layup with a euro step to restore Florida’s lead.

The Gators forced a miss and slowed the tempo down. Castleton drove to the basket, finished through contact, and drew a foul to cap off a seven-point Florida run. He converted the free throw to give UF a four-point lead.

Castleton spun his defender around and finished an open layup to continue the run. 

Richard missed a 3-pointer, but Florida secured the offensive rebound. Castleton kicked the ball out to Lofton, who sank a triple. 

Zeigler finally ended the Gators’ 13-0 run with a three from the top of the arc. 

Castleton caught the ball down low after a Zeigler miss and scored a layup through contact; he converted the three-point play from the free-throw line. The 6-foot-11-inch forward missed a shot on the next possession, but he caught his miss and lofted it back in for a second-chance bucket. 

He took advantage when Tennessee matched a smaller defender against him because he’s used to getting double-teamed, Castleton said. 

“When a team guards me one-on-one, I’ve just got to take advantage of that,” Castleton said. 

The win over Tennessee ranks as Castleton’s favorite win, the graduate student forward said. The upset was special because of Jitoboh’s eye injury last season, which he suffered against the Volunteers more than a year ago. 

“What happened to Jason [Jitoboh] last year, this one was definitely personal,” Castleton said. “This is number one for sure.” 

Florida pushed its lead to ten points after Lofton drew a foul and hit one free throw. 

Richard drove to the cup late in the game and finished a layup against the defender to give the Gators a nine-point lead.

The Volunteers failed to hit shots late, going 1-10 to end the game. Jones blocked Zeigler’s 3-point shot, and Lofton made a layup in the closing seconds to finish the upset. 

The Gators will head to Lexington, Kentucky, to play the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN. 

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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