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Florida 80, California 60: Gators race past Bears in Fort Myers

Florida’s men are off to a scintillating start on the hardwood.

NCAA Basketball: California at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

For about 12 minutes on Monday night, Florida and California were locked in the sort of defensive struggle the Gators had not yet played this year.

The next eight minutes ensured this game wouldn’t be one of them, either.

The high-pressure, high-octane Gators shifted into gear as the first half ended, going on a 29-10 run over the final 8:36 of the first half and effectively closing out Cal before the second 20 minutes in Fort Myers. The eventual final — 80-60 in Florida’s favor — could’ve been a lot more lopsided, too.

Florida had five different scorers chip in over that first-half flurry, with Myreon Jones draining three treys and Phlandrous Fleming scoring seven of its first nine points. For the third time in four games this year, the Gators had four double-digit scorers — Colin Castleton had 16 to lead all scorers — and for the fourth straight game, the Gators allowed 61 or fewer points while scoring 71 or more, flexing their muscles at both ends of the court.

Jones, Fleming, and C.J. Felder having a combined 32 points and making six of their 11 combined threes provided a lot of punch from players who won’t be expected to score every night for this team, so long as Castleton (who added eight rebounds and three assists, including one gorgeous bounce pass to Anthony Duruji on a run-out that inspired him to mime goggles at Florida’s bench) and Tyree Appleby (15 points without a made three, three assists, and just one turnover) lead the way on a consistent basis.

And as Mike White experimented with lineups and emptied its bench late in the first half and for much of the second, Florida’s reserves responded, with Elijah Kennedy drilling a three and trying an insane dunk and Niels Lane playing through some self-inflicted turnovers to put an exclamation point on the affair with his own thunderous throwdown.

Next up for the Gators is a meeting with Ohio State — offensively potent, if defensively susceptible — on Wednesday, a chance to advance to 5-0 on the season and win the Fort Myers Tip-Off with a third win over a Power Five team from a different conference this fall.

Nabbing that, and ending up as one of what should be just a few dozen teams with a zero in the loss column in Division I men’s college basketball, would cap an amazing November for a team comprised almost entirely of transfers.

And while thinking of that future is looking ahead on fans’ parts, this team’s refusal to do so for more than a possession or two at a time should engender plenty of confidence that it will bring a strong effort to bear against the Buckeyes.