Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators rout Vanderbilt in SEC opener as Castleton breaks out

By Jake Winderman
December 30, 2020
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators rout Vanderbilt in SEC opener as Castleton breaks out

Image Credit: GatorsMBK / Twitter

Winning without star junior forward Keyontae Johnson is never going to be easy, but the Florida Gators made it look that way on Wednesday night. Florida’s first game in 18 days after Johnson collapsed on the court vs. Florida State ended up as a 91-72 victory over Vanderbilt in the UF’s SEC-opener. The Gators (4-1, 1-0 SEC) offense truly hit its stride at Memorial Gymnasium, finishing with 1.3 points per possession and shooting 62% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc vs. the Commodores.

Florida’s ability to successfully get into transition and create scoring opportunities off of turnovers against Vanderbilt may have been the most decisive factor in its victory.

What went down on Wednesday as the Gators started 1-0 in conference play? Keep on reading for our Fastbreak takeaways from the game

It was over when … Florida held Vanderbilt without a bucket for an 8-minute stretch in the first half. The Gators went on a 15-1 run during that sequence and never looked back, averaging a spectacular 1.2 points per possession to Vanderbilt’s putrid .853. Florida led by 14 after the first frame and trailed for only 2:37 throughout the full 40 minutes. Its 19-point winning margin was its largest advantage o the entire game.

Exceptional efforts: If you’d never seen him play before tonight, you’d wonder why Colin Castleton failed to garner enough minutes at Michigan to stay with the Wolverines. The junior transfer looked like an All-SEC center, posting a career-high 23 points on 11 of 13 shooting with, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks. Castleton had no issue jockeying for position in the post and consistently found himself open in the paint for easy dunks and layups. His immediate eligibility after transferring was quite the surprise in the offseason, but it’s done wonders for the Gators on both ends. There isn’t a more skilled offensive rebounder on this Florida team than Castleton, and his soft touch around the rim is an unquantifiable plus.

If you were watching Florida’s unfortunate Cotton Bowl misery vs. Oklahoma, you may have missed the Anthony Duruji breakout party. After hardly factoring through the Gators’ first three games, Duruji finished with season-highs in points (11), rebounds (5), blocks (3) and steals (2) on an extremely efficient 4-of-5 effort from the field. Duruji was a menace on both sides of the floor, showcasing his shot-blocking prowess on the defensive end and his ability to find space inside and from long-range on offensive. At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds with a lengthy vertical, Duruji has the chance to become one of the Gators’ best two-way threats this season. His energy has been there, but the stats finally started to trickle into the box score.

Odds and ends: Florida set season-highs in points (91), field-goal percentage (62%), blocks (9), points per possession (1.3) and fastbreak points (26) … the Gators also posted a season-high 20 points off turnovers, forcing 16 … Florida outscored Vanderbilt 26-6 on the fastbreak … no Gators player finished negative in +/- … Florida shot 72% FG in the second half … sophomore guard Scottie Lewis posted 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks … sophomore point guard Tre Mann was efficient with 9 points, 10 boards and 4 dimes … the Gators are 5-1 in SEC openers under White

What it means: This win won’t mean much come March, but it meant a hell of a lot symbolically on Wednesday night. After dealing with the emotional trauma of Johnson’s situation and spending only three days on the practice court since Dec. 12, the Gators came out against Vanderbilt with boatloads of energy and the desire to hit the Commodores in the mouth from the jump. Florida will continue to be a work in progress with Johnson sidelined, but the blueprint for the rest of the season started to slowly come together.

The Gators found success once again in playing with tempo offensively thanks to their guards, and it’s clearly the direction head coach Mike White wants to take this team. Combine that with the defensive energy being brought, and you’ve got a recipe for success the rest of the way.

What’s next? Florida will open the new year by hosting LSU on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET in its SEC home opener. It will be the Gators’ first game inside the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in 27 days. The contest will air live nationally on CBS.

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