Florida basketball score, takeaways: Short-handed Gators battle back to down Iona in NIT

By Adam Silverstein
March 16, 2022
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Short-handed Gators battle back to down Iona in NIT
Basketball

Image Credit: GatorsMBK / Twitter

It may not be the NCAA Tournament, but Florida Gators basketball still has a chance to win a postseason tournament after a strong come-from-behind effort to defeat the Iona Gaels 79-74 in first-round NIT action at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida. Playing short-handed without its head coach, the Gators battled back when it counted to survive and advance.

(3) Florida won its fourth straight first-round game in NIT play, though those appearances have been spread out. Still, as one of four seeded teams in its region, UF advances as it seeks an opportunity at postseason glory. Whether that will come will be dependent on whether the team can gel where it matters as tougher competition awaits.

What went down on Wednesday night in Florida’s season finale inside the O’Dome? Let’s take a look with some Fastbreak Takeaways.

It was over when … senior point guard Tyree Appleby made a free throw to put the Gators ahead five points with 20 seconds remaining. Struggling midway through the second half, Florida hunkered down on defense and used an extended 16-3 stretch to take its first lead at 68-61. Appleby drained consecutive triples to score eight points on the run. Iona tied it back up at 72 with a 9-2 run of its own as UF missed four shots and clanged the front end of three straight 1-and-1s. However, UF outscored the visitors 9-2 over the final 2:06 to clinch the victory.

First half focus: The Gators twice trailed by as many as eight points but used an extended 11-3 stretch to tie the game with 2:15 until the break. Florida did not score again with Iona ending the period on a 7-0 run. Three UF players combined to score 31 of 35 points in the half as the team went just 2 of 12 from downtown.

Exceptional efforts: Appleby, senior forward Colin Castleton, redshirt senior guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr. and freshman G Kowacie Reeves combined to score 64 points or 81% of Florida’s team total. Castleton and Fleming each led the way with a game-high 18 on 16 of 30 combined shooting, though they missed all four of their attempts from beyond the arc; Castleton added 13 rebounds, while Fleming grabbed five boards. Appleby and Reeves each scored 14, combining to go 6 of 15 from downtown; Appleby added five assists, while Reeves contributed six rebounds. Reeves was hot in the first half, while Castleton, Appleby and Fleming combined to score UF’s final 23 points of the game.

Odds and ends: Florida improved to 4-0 in the first round of the NIT since 2008, 6-2 since 1986 and 6-5 dating back to 1969 … the Gators are 7-3 in the NIT since 2008 and have never won the tournament in 10 chances … UF improved to 1-1 all-time against Iona … Florida led for just 0:38 of 115:39 dating back to March 5 before taking its first lead of the game with 9:21 to play … UF led for 8:10 of the final 9:21 … the Gators outscored the Gaels 16-5 on the fastbreak and held a 5-1 blocks advantage despite being down two post players

What it means / what’s next? Despite an exceptionally rough start, this was a nice win for a Florida team down personnel in forwards senior Anthony Duruji and junior CJ Felder while playing under an interim coach in Al Pinkins. The road immediately gets tougher for the Gators as they will travel to face the (2) Xavier Musketeers on Sunday in the second round of the NIT. Florida is 3-1 all-time against Xavier with consecutive wins. Should UF emerge victorious in that game, it will play the remainder of the NIT at Madison Square Garden.

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