After four straight wins, including a pair of wins against top 15 opponents Tennessee and West Virginia, No. 22 Florida made the Top 25 this week for the first time since November 2019.
The Gators (10-4, 6-3 SEC) host South Carolina (4-6, 2-4 SEC) in Gainesville on Wednesday night.
Florida coach Mike White credited the team’s two-week break after losing preseason SEC Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson on Dec. 12 to getting his season back on track. Johnson collapsed on the court that day during a game against Florida State and was subsequently hospitalized for more than a week.
“It’s nice to know that hopefully his guys will gain a little confidence,” White said. “We hope that level of confidence will help our guys embrace the job even more. After Keyontae, this team can still be a very good team.”
Colin Castleton and Omar Payne’s enhanced gameplay has been complemented by escorts Tre Mann, Tyree Appleby, and Noah Locke.
Castleton had 21 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in his upset 85-80 win over then-No. 11 West Virginia on Saturday. Castleton (13.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game) did a solid job in the paint against Mountaineers forward Derek Culver, limiting him to seven points in the second half.
“We were being soft in the first half and we didn’t play hard enough,” Castleton said. “(Culver) got a bunch of easy baskets that he wasn’t supposed to do, so he just perfected it in the second half and didn’t give him as many easy looks as we did in the first half.”
The Gamecocks, who have lost four of their last five, have been devastated by COVID-19 issues and injuries, which have hampered their efforts to maintain consistent success.
South Carolina got off to a terrible start Saturday at Vanderbilt when the Commodores used a 21-5 run in the first half to claim an eventual 93-81 victory.
Gamecocks coach Frank Martin is hopeful his latest casualty guard Trae Hannibal will be available to play the Gators after hitting the deck hard and leaving the game early.
“Once he was out of the game, his back tensed up a bit and because of the scoreboard I wasn’t going to put him there again,” Martin said. “Our coach feels like he’s going to be fine.”
South Carolina’s leading scorer, AJ Lawson, led the way again with 21 points, but Jermaine Couisnard, a 30.1 percent shooter this season, was 2 of 15 and finished with six points.
Keyshawn Bryant (15.4 points per game) ran into foul trouble early and was limited to 13 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes. Without him, Vanderbilt was 22 of 27 from the free throw line, while South Carolina made just 9 of 14 attempts.
“I probably could have put it back a little earlier, but I didn’t,” Martin said. “I think he came back with about six minutes to go. He could have put it back and he could have missed the 12 minute mark, so his minutes wouldn’t have changed.”
–Field level media
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.