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Castleton, Gators chomp Vols

 Brian Hartman   in Basketball

Florida takes a step towards the NCAA tournament by beating second-ranked Tennessee.

Photo by Maddie Washburn/Florida athletics

Tennessee came to Gainesville looking for some more respect from noted bracketolgists. Instead, Florida found an NCAA-tournament-resume-boosting, 67-54 win over the Volunteers. 

Florida forward Colin Castleton scored 20 points, pulled nine rebounds and dished out three assists in Florida's biggest win of the season. 

Tennessee was led in scoring by Zakai Zeigler's 15 points.

"It's a little bit of a cumulation of the work that the guys have put in," Florida first-year coach Todd Golden said. "This team has been through a lot of ups and downs." 

The Gators (13-9, 6-3 Southeastern Conference) led for the majority of the game's first 30 minutes. However,  the Vols rallied from as many as 13 points behind to take a 6-point lead midway thru the second half. 

That was Castleton's cue to take over.

Castleton scored 10 points in the game's final 10 minutes. He was 6-of-13 from the floor, and a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line and led the Gators in rebounding. 

The Vols (18-4, 7-2 SEC)  had their worst shooting percentage in a game since a 56-53 win over Maryland on Dec 11. Tennessee shot only 27.9% for the game (19-of-68, 5-of-25 from 3)

Tennessee was able to take advantage of Florida's 2-of-10 shooting start to begin the second half, flipping a six-point halftime deficit into a 44-38 lead with 10:40 to play in the game. The Gators suffered a nearly seven-minute field drought during that stretch. 

Zieglar's back-to-back 3s gave the Vols that brief lead mid way in the second half. Santiago Vescovi (11 pts) was fouled shooting a 3 and made all three free throws to give Tennessee the 44-38 advantage. 

Then the Gators took charge, going on a 13-0 run during one stretch. 

Meanwhile, The Vols  went 3-for-20  from the floor  while only scoring 10 more points for the rest of the game. Myreon Jones  hit a big 3 pointer for Florida that cut the Vols lead to one point. Riley Kugel's layup on the ensuing possession gave the Gators a lead they would never relinquish. 

Kyle Lofton was Florida's only other double figure scorer with 14 points. 

"The game was ugly but we fought back. We didn't let it discourage us," Lofton said. 

Jones and Will Richard finished with 9 points each for the Gators. Both Richard and Jones hit 3 pointers that help give Florida an early 17-4 lead. The Gators finished 21-of-48 from the floor for a healthy 44%.

Zeigler (6-of-19), Vescovi (2-of-12), Olivier Nkamhoua (4-of-13), and Josiah Jordan James (2-of-11) combined to shoot 14/55 (25.4%) from the floor. That quartet combined for 75 of the Vols 82 points in a win over Texas last Saturday night. 

"We lost our poise and let the fact that we weren't making shots impact us. We've got to get better offensively. We didn't execute at all the way we want to. And then had some defensive breakdowns at the worst time," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.

The Gators weren't projected as an NCAA tournament team by most coming into Tuesday, but beating the country's second-ranked team certainly helped. 


- Golden got his first SEC win against a veteran head coach in Barnes. Florida and Golden lost twice to Buzz Williams and Texas A&M, and also had lost to Bruce Pearl and Auburn. All of Golden's previous five SEC wins came against teams with first year head coaches. 

- Barnes's record vs Florida drops to 8-3, 1-3 in Gainesville. 

- Tennessee was projected to be a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament by Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi coming in. 

- Tennessee, Auburn and Texas A&M are tied for second in the SEC at 7-2, two games behind first-place Alabama.

Up next: The Vols host  Auburn (18-4)  Saturday at 2 ET. ESPN will have the telecast. Tennessee, Auburn and Texas A&M are tied for 2nd in the SEC at 7-2, two games behind first place Alabama.

The Gators travel to Lexington for an 8:30 ESPN Primetime game vs Kentucky (15-7). Florida and Kentucky are tied for fifth place in the SEC.