Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators survive, advance past Virginia Tech in 2021 NCAA Tournament

By Adam Silverstein
March 19, 2021
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Gators survive, advance past Virginia Tech in 2021 NCAA Tournament
Basketball

Image Credit: GatorsMBK / Twitter

Survive and advance is the name of the game when it comes to March Madness, and that’s exactly what the No. 7 seed Florida Gators did on Friday, pushing past the No. 10 seed Virginia Tech Hokies 75-70 in overtime to open the 2021 NCAA Tournament. It may not have always been pretty, but it was one of Florida’s best victories of the season when all was said and done.

The Gators trailed the Hokies by as many as 10 points early in the game and were behind for three quarters of the game before finding momentum late in the second half. Though UF looked to win at the final buzzer, a late shot by VT forced overtime. However, Florida maintained its momentum down the stretch to pick up its eighth straight Round 1 victory in the NCAA Tournament dating back to the 2011 event.

What went down as the Gators opened NCAA Tournament play with a victory? Let’s break it down in our Fastbreak takeaways.

It was over when … sophomore point guard Tre Mann drained a step-back three with 23 seconds left to put Florida ahead 74-70 just moments after Virginia Tech had cut its deficit to a single point. It was Mann’s third huge triple in the second half and overtime, and the Gators needed every one of those baskets after Mann was relatively quiet early in the game. The Hokies missed consecutive shots down the stretch and five of their last six field goal attempts in the period as UF outscored its opponent 11-5 in overtime.

Second half heartbreak: After trailing for a stretch of 30:14, Florida retook the lead with 5:14 left in the second half. A 7-0 run pushed the Gators further ahead, and they took a six-point lead with 2:50 to play on a step-back three by Mann. However, Florida got called for a 5-second violation with just 29 seconds remaining, giving Virginia Tech a free possession and basket. Junior forward Anthony Duruji then missed three of four free throws in the final 1:06 — including two with just seconds remaining — giving the Hokies an opportunity to hit a game-tying three with 1.7 seconds left, forcing overtime.

First half focus: Struggling on both ends of the court, Florida fell behind 10 points as Virginia Tech used an extended 17-5 with five straight three-pointers to lead 21-11. The Gators missed their first five attempts from beyond the arc as the Hokies broke their press with ease, did a great job sharing the rock and took advantage of lacking perimeter defense. UF went on a 12-3 run to cut its deficit to a single point, but VT ended the half on a 7-2 stretch to lead 33-27 at the break.

Exceptional efforts: Mann was only the third-leading scorer with 14 points, but he came through when it mattered with three late makes from beyond the arc. He also handled the ball substantially late, and Florida played much better with him in control of the rock.

Florida’s player of the game, however, was junior F Colin Castleton, who posted a strong double-double with team-highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds along with three big blocks. Castleton made 6 of 8 baskets and 7 of 8 free throws while registering the biggest block (late in the second half) and rebound (offensively, late in OT) of his career. Nahiem Alleyne was lights out for Virginia Tech with a game-high 30 points aided by four triples and a 10 of 13 mark at the line, but Castleton did a great job keeping him tentative on defense in foul trouble.

Sophomore guard Scottie Lewis also showed out with one of best performance since Jan. 2 as he scored 15 points and added four boards while shooting 5 of 8 from the field, 2 of 3 from long range and 3 of 4 from the charity stripe.

Important injury: With 13 minutes left in the game, junior PG Tyree Appleby took an elbow to his forehead while playing defense. The elbow opened a significant gash on his head, and blood splattered onto the court. Appleby hobbled off the court with the help of a trainer and sidelined forward Keyontae Johnson, cutting UF’s rotation by a second key player.

Odds and ends: Florida is now 45-18 all-time in the NCAA Tournament … the Gators have advanced to the second round in eight straight appearances … White is the first UF coach to advance to the NCAA Tournament in four of his first five seasons; the team is 6-3 in those events … Florida is now 5-5 all-time against Virginia Tech; the teams met Friday for the first time in 30 years … the Gators took 11 fewer shots than the Hokies but were vastly more efficient shooting … Florida won the rebounding battle 36-22 (30-16 defensive) with most of that advantage coming in the latter two periods … sophomore F Omar Payne was suspended from the game as a coach’s decision … Florida improved to 11-3 when scoring 70+ points and 15-1 when shooting 44% or better from the field (56.5%) … the Gators are now 4-1 in neutral-site games this season

What it means: One of Florida’s most impressive wins of the season came in one of its biggest moments. The Gators did not play exceptionally well on Friday but nevertheless remained calm and persistent as they chipped away the Hokies’ lead and eventually retook the momentum late in the second half through overtime. Florida came back from a 10-point deficit, outscoring Virginia Tech by eight in the second half and five in overtime. It did so without its primary frontcourt reserve available and after losing its starting point guard.

Appleby’s absence may have opened some eyes, however. The Gators played far better with him out of the game as Mann was able to create more with the ball in his hands and Lewis got significantly more minutes. Appleby coming off the bench, assuming he’s cleared by Sunday, may be best for Florida from a rotational standpoint. There’s no question that the level of play — both on the perimeter and with the inside-out game — improved with Mann controlling the rock.

What’s next? The Gators will be able to enjoy this victory for an extended period considering they were the opening game of March Madness. However, Florida will face an exceptionally difficult test on Sunday when it likely faces No. 2 seed Ohio State at a yet-to-be-announced time. The Buckeyes must still get past their first-round opponent.

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