Photo by Mark Brown / Getty Images

The Florida men’s basketball team played its fifth conference game Tuesday night, defeating the Ole Miss Rebels, 72-63, to improve to 3-2 in conference play in front of a relieved home crowd.

Despite the absence of forward Scottie Lewis, who was unavailable for “healthy and safety protocols” according to the team, the Gators led 24-13 after 12 minutes behind seven early points from Colin Castleton and a hot start from the floor. However, the Rebels stormed back on an 11-1 run as Florida missed its next four looks. After trading some baskets the final few minutes, the Gators managed to maintain a slim 33-31 lead going to the locker room.

Ole Miss guard Devontae Shuler was a driving force behind the Ole Miss offense, scoring 19 points and shooting 7/14 from the field including a circus three as the shot clock hit zero. After trailing by two at the break, the Rebels seized the lead on an 11-5 run to start the second half. They continued to outscore Florida on the strength of a great shooting night and opened their largest lead of the game, nine points, with 6:15 to play, giving them an 87.6% chance of winning according to ESPN BPI.

However, when the Gators needed him most, Colin Castleton came alive. For a six-minute stretch in the second half, he was the only Gator to score any points, but he kept the team in reach before the rest of the roster caught up at the end. The Rebels only made one basket in those final six minutes and the Gators closed the game on a 20-2 run. Castleton finished with a monster stat line, a double-double of 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks, the most by a Gator in almost sixteen years.

Tre Mann and Noah Locke had big nights offensively in their own right, with 17 and 15 respectively. Mann went 8-8 from the free-throw line and pulled down seven rebounds. Locke made three of six threes, including a dagger to give the Gators the lead for good with 2:37 remaining.

Florida dominated the rebounding battle in the second half, pulling down 39 boards to the Rebels’ 30, and grabbed two more steals (6-4) and blocked three times as many shots (9-3) as Ole Miss. Florida took 11 more trips to the penalty stripe as well, going 22-26 from the line as the Rebels also committed nine more fouls.

Florida snapped a two-game losing skid and will travel to take on Mississippi State next on Saturday at 4 p.m.

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