Sports Journalism Blog

By David Hayden | @SluggySports

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS – Colin Castleton knew the moment demanded more. The No. 7-seed Florida Gators had a chance to reach the second round of the NCAA tournament, but for that to happen, the 6-foot-11 junior forward understood what had to be done.

“I knew I wasn’t rebounding to my standard,” Castleton said. “…I know what I need bring every game. That comes with aggressiveness with a high motor. It’s win or go home at this point.”

The Gators are not going home. Castleton’s 19 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks became a decisive factor in the 75-70 overtime victory that sent Florida to the second round of the South region on Sunday. Florida (15-9) will meet No. 15-seed Oral Roberts, which upset second-seeded Ohio State.

Castleton influenced the game at both ends of the floor, with 6-of-8 shooting and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. His contribution was greatest when it was needed the most. In the last 9:52 of regulation and overtime, Castleton scored 13 points with five rebounds and a blocked shot with 1:06 to play in the second half.

“He was terrific,” said Florida coach Mike White. “So efficient. He logged so many minutes. Obviously, if he didn’t show up, we would be going home.”

The junior averaged 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds during the season. At one point, Castleton had a spell of four games out of nine in which he scored at least 20 points and made 64% of his shots. Castleton helped the Gators overcome the play of Virginia Tech’s Nahiem Alleyne, whose 28 points included the 3-point shot with two seconds to play in the second half to force overtime.

Florida advanced at the end of a difficult season that included the loss of Keyontae Johnson, the preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, who collapsed in December.

“It shows our character…things off the court and on the court,” Castleton said. “We just try to push through it as much as possible…Whatever happens, you have to fight through adversity, not just in the game but in life as well.”

Florida was down at the half, 33-27, partly as a result of nine turnovers.

” We weren’t losing the game, you got to have that mindset,” Castleton said. “It’s March Madness! You never know what’s going to happen. We stayed resilient.”

One of the main focuses of the Gators was Virginia Tech junior forward Keve Aluma, who was held to seven points in 36 minutes, more than eight points beneath his average of 15.2.

“I knew with my length I could get him out his rhythm a bit,” Castleton adds, “It was a team effort.”

Sophomore guard Tre Mann, Florida’s first-team All-Southeastern Conference guard, has been on a scoring run, averaging 22.6 points and shooting 58% from the floor over his previous five games. Mann scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

Virginia Tech (15-7) forced overtime after Alleyne scored 11 of his 28 points in the final 2:20 of regulation. Alleyne had missed a 3-pointer with 11 seconds to play in the second half. But given another chance, he made a 3-point shot that tied the score with two seconds to go.

“Our heads were down at end of regulation,” White remembered. “The coaches were preaching ‘We’re going to win this game, just push through this wall, be aggressive, we’re going to win this game.’”

The message from the coaches was not lost. Castleton credited talking to the right people to help his confidence.

“They bring me up,” he said. “…I don’t allow any negativity from the outside of my circle. They give me constructive criticism. I’m hard on myself when I have a bad game, and having confidence is the key to everything.”