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Florida 85, UNF 55: Gators ground Ospreys with smothering defense

Florida rebounded from its shocking loss to rout the overmatched Ospreys.

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

The Florida Gators didn’t erase all memories of their loss to Texas Southern on Monday by wiping the floor with North Florida on Wednesday in an 85-55 win.

But literally wiping the floor with hustle that helped overwhelm the Ospreys from the opening tip certainly seems like a step in the right direction.

Florida forced a season-high 28 turnovers — 21 of them steals, a truly massive number — and disrupted the UNF attack all night, controlling the game despite its offense taking some time to get humming after a 5-0 run in the game’s first 70 seconds and a push to get out to a 17-6 lead.

The Gators outscored UNF 16-2 on the fast break and 17-0 in points off turnovers before halftime, but shot poorly from the field, making just two threes, and had to settle for a 41-23 advantage at intermission — about as small as could have been forged, given that Gators seemed to apparate in every passing lane and uncoil for every ball poked loose for the first 20 minutes of play.

After the break, the Gators were crisper, especially in the half court, where good passing got Colin Castleton some of the easier buckets of his career-high 26-point effort. Castleton spent much of the night working through contact inside — he shot 11 free throws, and made a heartening eight of them — but had much more success against the undersized Ospreys than he did Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Texas Southern, also hauling in eight boards and recording two steals.

Florida would only make three more triples, but its lead got as big as 34 points and didn’t meaningfully shrink late despite a rotation featuring none of the Gators’ starters — all of whom had at least five points and two steals. Myreon Jones scored 14 points to join Castleton as Florida’s only other starter in double figures, while Tyree Appleby had 13 points and four steals off the bench.

The Gators also got nice contributions from both Kowacie Reeves and Niels Lane, little-used reserves who could help answer any concerns about Florida’s depth by earning minutes. Reeves, considered an offense-first shooter, made a few good defensive plays despite going 0-for-3 from the field; Lane, a defensive specialist to date, had the night’s sharpest cut on offense, darting in from the perimeter to earn an easy two.

But Florida’s defense being back to top form — the Gators had three more steals than UNF had made shots — against a team it could athletically dominate and without the sort of ball-handlers to trouble it off the dribble will not necessarily assuage all fears about this team and program, which has been able to find its defense time and again under Mike White. And despite better transition scoring and improved execution, the Gators’ extended spell of poor shooting from distance leaves them without the offensive firepower to make blowouts ridiculous, make close games into blowouts, and turn bitter losses into hard-earned wins, at least for now.

This was, in short, the sort of game Florida should be expected to play against a team like UNF — but one game after falling far short of similar expectations against Texas Southern, it only counts for so much with so many.

It’s a start. There’s a long way back up the hill — to many fans’ good favor, and to the brimming potential of November — to go.