18 days after Keyontae Johnson, their leader and star, collapsed in the early goings of their last game, the Florida Gators faced their first test fully without him at Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.
They passed it — and then some.
A swarming Florida defense, excellent shooting, and a tremendous performance from Colin Castleton powered the Gators to a 91-72 win — one that may well reset notions of where this team’s ceiling may be without Johnson.
Castleton’s 23 points, a career high, came on just 13 shots, and mostly resulted from him slipping and rolling to the basket for easy finishes. But he also showed a surprising number of moves in the low post, and continues to be a very pleasant surprise after transferring to Florida from Michigan in the offseason.
What Florida returned from last year’s team also showed out.
Scottie Lewis had 16 points, four rebounds, four assists, and three blocks — including one massive swat of a three late in the game that he turned into his own one-man fast break.
Scottie Lewis seems to do one thing each game that doesn't physically make sense. pic.twitter.com/jtHXMe7AcY— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) December 31, 2020
Tre Mann, the lone Gator starter not to break double figures in scoring, made up for his mere nine points with 10 rebounds and four assists. Noah Locke quietly compiled 10 points, with his two threes part of a mere seven by the Gators.
But the newcomers for these newly run-and-gun Gators were clearly excited to stretch their muscles and scrape the sky. Anthony Duruji had 11 points and three of Florida’s nine blocks, running and jumping for most of them, in his first start; Lewis was everywhere for a defense that swarmed Vandy in the half court and cut off its chances in transition. The sprightly Tyree Appleby had 13 points, five boards, three assists, and two of Florida’s nine steals off the bench — and most memorably, on this night, followed a lay-up late in the second half with an almost reflexive defense of an inbounds attempt that forced one of the Commodores’ 16 turnovers.
Florida shot very well — 61.8 percent from the floor — thanks to its offense generating great shots, which it did partly because its defense harassed Vandy all night. That defense shut down Scotty Pippen Jr., who needed 16 shots to get his 18 points, and were it not for shooters Myles Stute and Trey Thomas combining to make seven of 10 threes, the game would’ve gotten a lot uglier for Jerry Stackhouse’s outfit.
(Not the one he wore. That one was nice.)
Florida was likely to beat Vanderbilt in this game, as its depth and talent outstrip the Commodores’ significantly. How soundly the Gators did so should have alarm bells ringing elsewhere in the SEC.