Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators upset No. 11 West Virginia with strong second half effort

By Jake Winderman
January 30, 2021
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators upset No. 11 West Virginia with strong second half effort

Image Credit: WVU Athletic Communications

Florida Gators basketball pulled out a gritty 85-80 victory over the No. 11 West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon, marking the team’s second-straight AP Top 25 victory and fourth consecutive win overall, its longest streak of the season. Florida (10-4) improved to 3-0 against West Virginia under head coach Mike White, who has led a program turnaround over the last couple of weeks.

The Gators outscored the Mountaineers by eight over the final eight minutes of the game and held a 48-38 scoring advantage in the second half. They shot 55.2% from the field and went 7 of 11 from three in the second half to close out an intense 2021 SEC-Big 12 Challenge win in Morgantown, West Virginia.

What went down in Florida’s second-straight win over an AP Top 25 team? Find out more in our Fastbreak takeaways.

It was over when … the final buzzer sounded. In a game that featured 14 lead changes — during which neither team held more than a seven-point advantage — that buzzer was the only sense of finality. The Gators ended the game by scoring the final four points — all free throws by juniors center Colin Castleton and point guard Tyree Appleby — while holding the Mountaineers scoreless over the final 1:40.

First half focus: Derek Culver powered West Virginia to a 42-37 lead at the break with 21 points — shooting 6 of 6 from the field and 9 of 11 from the free throw line — and five rebounds. Neither team found success from downtown, combining to go 2 of 13 from long range. Most notable was the officiating. There was little fluidity in the first frame with referees calling 35 fouls that resulted in 37 free throw attempts in the first 20 minutes. (There were officiating issues beyond this in the game.)

Exceptional efforts: On a night where Culver looked like he would dominate postgame headlines, Castleton made an impressive case to share the front page with West Virginia’s lead man. The Michigan transfer posted a team-high 21 points with seven rebounds (four offensive) and five blocks for the Gators. Castleton, who shot 6 of 9 from the field and a perfect 9 of 9 from the charity stripe, scored 15 of his 21 points in the final frame, tallying his fourth game of 20+ point game this season, the most of any Florida player. He also notched his third game of 5+, all of which have come in the Gators’ past six contests. Castleton is now averaging 16.4 points, six boards and 2.8 rejections per game during SEC play.

If Castleton was the first star of the game for Florida, Noah Locke was easily the second-most important player. Locke poured in a season-high 19 points, sinking 4 of 7 shots from beyond the arc and 5 of 6 free throws. The junior guard hit shots off the dribble, off the catch and in transition, showing off a diverse shotmaking profile that had been held in check frequently this season. When the Locke is hot, so are the Gators.

Odds and ends: Florida is now 9-0 this season when scoring 72+ points … all 11 players to enter the game for the Gators scored … Florida outscored West Virginia 26-5 on the fastbreak and 32-22 in the paint … the Gators are now 5-2 when hitting at least seven triples in a game … sophomore G Scottie Lewis hit his first three since Dec. 30, 2020, and was efficient with 7 points … Florida is averaging 82.5 points per game over its four straight wins … White is 3-0 all-time against West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins … the Gators are 17-29 all-time against AP Top 25 teams under White with 11 of those 17 wins coming on the road … UF improved to 7-3 all-time against WVU … Florida is now 5-3 in the SEC-Big 12 challenge all-time … the Gators are 5-4 against Big 12 teams under White … UF is 1-1 this season in black uniforms, 7-4 under White

What it means: The win does more than just give the Gators their second Quadrant 1 victory of the season. It showed that Florida is fully capable of going toe-to-toe with a physical foe while holding its own in the paint. The Gators matched the Mountaineers 37-37 in rebounding despite WVU entering as a superior team on the glass. In a game where Florida was outmatched physically, it did just enough to go punch-for-punch with West Virginia before transitioning into a more fastbreak-oriented offense, where it is significantly more comfortable. The Gators played their most complete game of the season without abandoning what they do best. White came out with a balanced game plan to outplay Huggins’ interior-based team, and it worked wonderfully.

It may be difficult for Florida to be inserted into the AP Top 25 on Monday due to it being seven spots out of the rankings as of last week. However, the Gators’ victory was in the national focus, and they do have two wins over top 11 teams as part of their recent four-game winning streak. It would not be a surprise to see UF slot in around Nos. 23-25, the first time it would be ranked this season.

What’s next? Florida will have three days off before resuming its SEC schedule with South Carolina coming to town on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET. The game will air live on the SEC Network. The Gators are off to a 6-3 start halfway through SEC play.

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