Colin Castleton continued his role as a one-man S.W.A.T. team Saturday against Mississippi with six blocks and Tyree Appleby had his first 20-point performance in a Florida uniform, but it wasn’t enough for a second consecutive victory as the Gators fall to 6-4 on the season and 3-3 in SEC play following the 72-69 loss.
Castleton, who had eight blocks in Florida’s last game against Ole Miss Tuesday and has scored over 20 points against over half of his SEC foes so far, picked up right where he left off in Starkville with 10 first-half points on top of his four early rejections.
Despite Castleton’s hot start, the Bulldogs took a 32-29 advantage into the locker room. The biggest difference in the first twenty minutes was the rebounding battle as Mississippi State pulled down 24 boards, including eight on the offensive end, to Florida’s 13. The Bulldogs took that advantage and parlayed it into second-chance points and points in the paint. The second half wasn’t any better and Mississippi State wound up with 21 more rebounds than the Gators (47 to 26).
The second-half got off to a nightmare start for the orange and blue as Mississippi State scored the first eight points out of the gate to shoot out to a 11-point advantage with 18:22 remaining, the largest lead either team had held to that point. The Bulldogs big men Tolu Smith and Abdul Ado dominated down low as 40 of Mississippi State’s first 50 points came from the paint. Smith finishing with a game-leading 27 points on 13 shots as well as 14 rebounds and Ado lead the way with second-chance points behind a trio of offensive rebounds and a perfect five-of-five night from the floor on his way to 11 points and nine rebounds. The two big men had three blocks each.
Florida began to respond with five consecutive makes to cut back within five, but the Gators had zero answer for Smith who made two hard-fought baskets in a row to move the Bulldogs back up nine again. Florida kept fighting back and at one point was a Castleton free throw away from making it a one-possession game, but never got closer than four points until Tre Mann’s final free throw with 16 seconds left to set the final margin.
Castleton continued his SEC tear but had to leave the game for a few minutes after landing awkwardly on his left ankle and limping off the court. He would return to the game and finish with 16 points, seven rebounds and six blocks, becoming the first SEC player with back-to-back games with six or more blocks in six years.
Appleby’s 20-point performance, his first since transferring from Cleveland State, came off the strength of a perfect 11-11 night from the free throw line and a 15-point second half performance. Apart from Castleton and Appleby, no other Gator had more than eight points and the team went a measly 5-19 from behind the three-point line.
Head coach Mike White’s squad will take the court again at home Tuesday against the 10th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in hopes of not dropping four out of five games.