The Florida Gators (10-4/6-3 SEC) hit the road and won a hard-fought, physical affair against No. 11 West Virginia. The Gators and Mountaineers went back and forth, exchanging the lead 18 times but it was Florida that made late free throws and got enough stops to win 85-80.
The Gators got into foul trouble early, which is becoming a theme. Tre Mann, Omar Payne, and Colin Castleton all picked up two quick first-half fouls, which forced Mike White to go deep into the bench early on.
Noah Locke led the way with those players on the bench, scoring 10 points. With Castleton and Payne sidelined, West Virginia big man Derek Culver had his way with the Gators. Culver scored 21 first-half points, including shooting 9-of-11 from the charity stripe.
“We were just being soft in the first half, didn’t play hard enough,” Castleton said. “He got a bunch of easy buckets that he wasn’t supposed to, so kind of just honed in on that in the second half. Didn’t give him as many easy looks as we did in the first half. Got a bunch of layups and just really locked in on that. Basically, being soft.”
Castleton came back out in the second half energized and motivated to put a stop to that. The Michigan transfer scored 15 points in the second half, including a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line.
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Who: Florida vs South Carolina
When: Wednesday, Feb. 3 | 6:30 p.m.
Where: Stephen C O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Florida won its fourth game in a row and improved to 3-0 against West Virginia under Mike White, with all three of those wins scouted by assistant coach Darris Nichols, who played at WVU 2004-08.
The Gators move to 4-2 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge under White.
The win marked Florida 17th vs. a ranked opponent under White, the 11th away from Gainesville and the fourth in a true road game.
Noah Locke tallied 19 points and shot 4-for-7 from 3-point range, including a pair of second-half threes 34 seconds apart that edged Florida into a 59-58 lead at the 13:50 mark of the second half.
Colin Castleton posted 21 points, including 15 in the second half. He shot 9-for-9 from the free throw line, matching his career-best for most free throws made. He added five blocked shots, the third time in his last five appearances to post five-plus blocks.
The Gators shot .552 from the field in the second half, while limiting the Mountaineers to a .333 rate.