A week after setting out shirts emblazoned with “The Golden Era” to celebrate the beginning of Todd Golden’s tenure as Florida’s men’s basketball head coach, the Gators put out black shirts for students before a meeting with Florida Atlantic.
They proved appropriate: The Owls came for a funeral — and staged one, outfighting Florida and staving off a late rally for a 76-74 win.
And make no mistake about the upset: FAU was the deserving winner of this game, controlling it for much of its duration.
The Owls drained 13 of 24 threes, more than compensating for making just 16 of their 45 twos, with Michael Forrest (20 points off the bench in his first action of the season) and Johnell Davis stroking four each and Alijah Martin hitting three. Their defense also flummoxed a Florida team that has not found its offensive flow this year, with Colin Castleton needing 25 shots to get his 30 points and no Gator hitting 50 percent from the floor on the night.
Kyle Lofton (14 points, seven boards, six assists), Will Richard (14 points, seven assists), and Kowacie Reeves (11 points, three threes) all aided Castleton for stretches, but that quartet also produced 69 of Florida’s 74 points, with Alex Fudge (four points, five fouls) earning 80 percent of the rest.
And Florida wrapping an extended 22-5 run around halftime — 6-0 into it, 16-5 out of it — and taking a 10-point lead early in the second did not deter the Owls in the slightest. After reinserting Vladislav Goldin, whose absence coincided with Castleton doing whatever he wanted in the paint, FAU went on an extended 33-6 run that built a 14-point lead with just under five minutes to play.
To Florida’s credit, the Gators subsequently staged the sort a rally that became customary under the head coach Golden replaced — the same one who brought FAU head coach Dusty May to Gainesville as an assistant — to put pressure on the Owls down the stretch. After falling behind 71-57, Florida responded with a 10-0 run, slicing the lead down thanks in part to back-to-back threes from Reeves.
But a Lofton layup through contact with a chance to cut the lead to two was well off the mark — and did not draw a whistle the St. Bonaventure transfer was angling for — and Florida left Martin open for a dagger three at the other end.
How big was that make? Well, Florida still had another 7-2 closing run in it — aided by a technical foul for a timeout the Owls did not have that Richard converted into the first two points of a personal 5-0 run — and thus would have pulled off its improbable comeback without FAU’s only field goal of the final 4:48 of play.
But FAU hit it, like it had a dozen threes before.
And so Florida’s thunderous rally still ended with a thud, leaving these Gators to recuperate and rebound after a loss that was surely a shock to the system.