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Florida 79, Ole Miss 64: Gators pull away from Rebels, lose Colin Castleton to broken hand

Florida got a much-needed win on Wednesday night. It will have to vie for the next one without its do-everything big.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the second half of Florida’s matchup with Ole Miss on Wednesday night, Gators center Colin Castleton got his right wrist caught between defenders working as a screener. It took a couple of seconds for him to react, but he would finish that possession bent at the waist on the baseline, leave the game immediately afterward, and remain in the locker room for the remainder of it.

Florida did not let that deter it, with several Gators stepping up — especially in Castleton’s absence in the second half — to hand Ole Miss a 79-64 defeat and snap their own three-game losing streak.

But the Gators will need a lot more of that if they are going to end their season with more satisfaction than frustration, as Florida announced Castleton suffered a broken hand about an hour after the game’s completion.

Ironically, this might have been the game in which Florida needed Castleton least this season. While the Gators mostly struggled to get him untracked offensively, leading to a season-low three points on a season-low three shots in a season-low 22 minutes — though with three rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and a steal, naturally — the rest of the roster played the sort of ball that has frequently been lacking around its star.

Five Gators scored in double figures, led by Myreon Jones and his 15 points, and Florida mustered its best shooting night in SEC play by some margin, putting in almost 60 percent of both its twos and threes — and making 10 of the latter, with Jones’s five pacing the Gators.

Jones added seven rebounds and two steals, also making a fine hustle play late in the game by diving on the floor in the backcourt to save a possession — and, in doing so, helped atone for his four turnovers, most of them coming in a sloppy start to the game that led to Florida giving up a 10-0 run and trailing 19-15 midway through the first half.

Superb offensive execution against a 1-3-1 zone flipped the script for the Gators, however, and they scored on several consecutive possessions heading into halftime, building a 39-29 lead by the break.

Castleton’s break would happen after another Rebels spurt brought them within two points in the early goings of the first half, but Florida had more answers, ultimately pushing its lead to as many as 18 points and holding Ole Miss without a three in the second half. And while the Rebels had 16 offensive rebounds — 11 in the first half, when Castleton was around but often neutralized — and took 14 more shots than the Gators, they also had four fewer made baskets, and matched Florida’s casual ball-handling by committing 11 turnovers of their own while prying away just two of the Gators’ total of 12 after halftime.

After Castleton went out, Florida went up, in other words.

With their big man, best player, and emotional leader now sure to be out for an extended period — and very possibly the rest of this season — the Gators will need to continue to elevate their play.