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Florida 66, USF 55: Gators survive slow start in Sunrise

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It was ugly early. But once untracked, the Gators did enough to return to winning form.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Southern at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

USF 10, Florida 3 was not a score the Gators wanted to see early on in Sunrise on Saturday. Neither was USF 16, Florida 13 — especially after the Gators had answered the Bulls’ initial push with a 7-0 run of their own.

But the final score of Florida 66, South Florida 55 was a bit more agreeable.

Phlandrous Fleming had 12 points and one emphatic block off the bench, Colin Castleton had a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double, and Anthony Duruji chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds of his own in a game that Florida turned around after its slow start and held onto after a USF charge.

That 10-3 deficit was built in substantial part by turnovers, with two steals leading to four USF points in the first segment of play and helping to get the Bulls out to as much of a “hot” start there can really be in a game that was stuck on 0-0 for the better part of three minutes as both teams missed shots and made mistakes. But a timeout from Mike White halted the Bulls’ charge, and Florida ripped off a 7-0 run in the next minute of play to tie things up.

And after USF’s Caleb Murphy hit a tough jumper to put the Bulls up 16-13, Florida responded with a 15-2 run into halftime in which six different Gators scored, finally adding some points to the scoreboard in a half spent keeping the Bulls from doing so. (USF scored just eight points in the final 13:54 of the first half, and just two in the final 6:03.)

Murphy, though, would not go gently into that good South Florida midafternoon. Though the Gators briefly pushed their lead to 16 early on in the second half, Murphy had six points and two assists — part of his game-high 16 and five, respectively — during an extended 16-4 run to slice Florida’s lead to three.

But the Gators answered with an and-one from Myreon Jones and a rare 2-for-2 trip at the line for Castleton — whose six makes in eight tries was a heartening development even if many required some rolls and bounces to go down — that would push their lead back to eight, and it would stay above seven for the duration of the game.

And the sum of Murphy’s statistical contributions after that run to get back in it? A layup for the game’s final bucket — cutting the Gators’ final margin of victory to 11.

For Florida, a better start or a shorter second-half lull might have made for a more emphatic win. But the Gators did score the most points any team has managed against USF this season despite mediocre shooting (39 percent from the field, 31 percent from three), 17 turnovers, and fewer second-chance points than one might expect from 18 offensive boards. And the 18 points in the first half were the fewest Florida has allowed in any half this year, too.

Winning games like these does not move the meter for fans who are licking wounds from a 1-3 stretch or sharpening knives for White, of course. What it does do is get the Gators back on track after that rougher stretch — and wins are still better than losses, last I checked.