GAINESVILLE — Colin Castleton is accustomed to being double-teamed every time he touches the ball, so he was pleasantly surprised — maybe even downright stunned — when Tennessee opted to guard him with a single defender in the second half.
“I’ve got to take advantage of that,” Castleton said.
He did. Castleton scored 20 points, including 16 in the second half, and Florida used a 13-0 run with about nine minutes left to help upend the second-ranked Volunteers 67-54 Wednesday night.
Kyle Lofton added 14 points for the Gators, who delivered coach Todd Golden his most significant victory in his first season in Gainesville. It was Florida’s second Quad 1 win in the past two weeks.
The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.
“Our guys are disappointed,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We’re better than this, but tonight we weren’t.”
Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 SEC) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. UT outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.
But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied, eventually turning a 46-42 deficit into a 55-46 lead with 5:12 left. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper — essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.
“They went small, and I felt like I had a mismatch,” Castleton said.
Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.
Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the visitors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.
The Gators were red hot to start the game, making six of their first eight shots — including all three from 3-point range — while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.
The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived — thanks mostly to Castleton.
“We gave them a chance to start believing in what they’re doing, and they took it,” Barnes said.
Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.
Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.
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“We kept fighting uphill all night long,” Barnes said.
Florida: The Gators are two games into the toughest stretch of their season. Coming off a loss at then-No. 5 Kansas State, they have road games against Kentucky and No. 4 Alabama up next. So to say they needed this one would be an understatement.
“It was a desperation game,” Castleton said. “We’ve got a tough schedule here and we’ve got to win games. We were able to claw and fight.”
IN THE HOUSE
Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022 who just made it all the way to the quarterfinals in his Australian Open debut, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.
Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.
Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.
By MARK LONG
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