For the first 20 minutes of the Florida Gators men’s basketball team’s season opener against Elon on Tuesday night, Colin Castleton was as good as he’s been in a Gators uniform, verging on downright dominant.
After halftime? It was time for Midnight.
That’s the nickname of Penn State transfer Myreon Jones, whose silky threes made him the star of the second period and allowed him to match Castleton’s game-high 18 points in the Gators’ 74-61 win.
Castleton and Jones all but swapped roles in the locker room when it came to leading Florida’s scoring efforts, with the big man scoring 17 points before the break and the guard tallying 15 points after it. Castleton was more effective on the defensive end, however, setting a new school record for a season opener with six blocks, and also stuffed the stat sheet, adding five rebounds and four assists on the night.
Tyree Appleby (14 points, three rebounds, three assists) and Anthony Duruji (10 points, seven rebounds) joined Castleton and Jones in double figures for Florida, which led by as many as 26 points in the first half and had a 20-point edge when Castleton exited the game for the final time with over eight minutes left.
The Phoenix, who got 15 points from Hunter McIntosh on the night, would whittle the Florida lead down to its final margin thanks mostly to some iffy defense from lineups that might not get many minutes going forward.
But apart from that late leakiness, Mike White’s primary concerns are probably turnovers from Castleton and Appleby — who combined for nine of Florida’s mere 11 — and some unimpressive shooting from distance (8-for-23, but just 4-for-17 from players other than Jones) and the foul line (16-for-29, with Castleton uncharacteristically struggling to a 4-for-10 performance), all of which could possibly be self-correcting.
And Florida’s defensive intensity, which played a major role in Elon scoring just 24 points in the first half and shooting 37 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from three, seems like something that could be sustainable.
The Gators’ length and speed on the defensive end made things difficult for the CAA outfit all night, and though better-equipped teams like Sunday visitor Florida State will be more able to match Florida athletically, the bulldog mentality of Brandon McKissic, long arms of Castleton and Phlandrous Fleming, and explosive athleticism of Appleby and Duruji could translate against even some of the best squads in college ball.
That game against FSU — which has won six straight in the rivalry between the two teams, beaten White’s teams in every opportunity, and arguably wrested preeminence in men’s basketball in the Sunshine State from the Gators — is likely to be the most memorable of the Gators’ non-conference slate, with a win signaling some very positive changes and a loss likely to bring up many of the same criticisms of Florida’s program under White.
And Florida may well find the ever-athletic, never-short, and increasingly talented Seminoles too tough a test to pass this early in this season.
Say this for these Gators, though: If they bring their best defense to the O’Dome on Sunday, they would seem very unlikely to be punked.