It has been a long but short-handed men’s basketball season for the Florida Gators.
Colin Castleton scored 19 points and 14 rebounds, Tre Mann hit a step-back 3-pointer with 23 seconds left in overtime and the seventh-seeded Gators held off No. 10 seed Virginia Tech 75-70 in a first-round game on Friday.
The Gators did it again, getting through to the second round for an eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance — and doing it without two key contributors.
“We weren’t losing the game. That’s just what it comes down to,” Gators head coach Mike White said. “You gotta have the mindset of, ‘we’re not losing this game,’ we don’t want to go back to Florida just yet. You just gotta keep pushing, keep fighting.”
Gators improved to 16-5 all-time in first-round action, 4-0 under coach White. Moreover Gators now holds a 6-3 record in overtime games in NCAA Tournament play, 2-0 under White (2017 vs. Wisconsin).
Gators’ biggest cheerleader was Keyontae Johnson, who is back with the team following a December game in which he collapsed on the court and was hospitalized. He is still recovering from the episode, and doctors told him he could not play again this season.
However they opened the men’s tournament without key forward Omar Payne, who was benched by White, and lost starting guard Tyree Appleby midway through the second half after an inadvertent elbow opened a gash on his forehead.
Castleton recorded the 25th NCAA Tournament double-double in Florida history, with 19 points and a career-best 14 rebounds. Castleton joined an impressive list of players to record at least 19 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists in the NCAA Tournament over the past 25 years. The list also includes: Zion Williamson, JaJuan Johnson, Kevin Love, Nick Collison who did it three times, Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce.
“I knew the past couple of games I wasn’t really rebounding to my standard. Coaches talk about it and I know what I’ve gotta bring every day and if I don’t, then it doesn’t look good on myself and the team, Castleton said. “I realized that I had to do better on the rebounding part and that just comes with aggressiveness, playing at a high motor and just wanting it more than the other team.”
Florida topped a Virginia Tech team that entered the game ranked #25 in the AP poll. It marked Florida’s 18th ranked win under White, the 12th on the road.
Tyrece Radford added 16 points for the Hokies and Hunter Cattoor finished with 11 off the bench. Virginia Tech hit 5 of its first 10 3-point attempts, but made just two the rest of the way.
The beat goes on as The Gators will try and reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2017 facing No. 15 seed Oral Roberts who upset No. 2 seed Ohio State. The schools have never met before.