GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — When the final buzzer sounded, Florida coach Mike White and sidelined forward Keyontae Johnson jumped toward each other and shared an emotional embrace.
This one was for “Coach Key,” and everyone knew it. Even Florida State.
Colin Castleton had 15 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and six blocks, and the Gators knocked off the 20th-ranked Seminoles 71-55 on Sunday to end a seven-game losing streak in the series 11 months after Johnson collapsed on the court in Tallahassee.
“We just played our heart out for him,” Castleton said. “Everything was for him. … We knew how bad he wanted to play in that game. Talked to him before the game. We could tell maybe he was a little down about it. But he keeps that same mentality. He lifts us and shows his emotion on the bench.
“Everything was for him and Coach White. It’s been a long drought. But we flipped that narrative. It was a big win for Key for sure.”
Florida (2-0) won its first game against its biggest in-state rival since 2013 and took a huge step forward in White’s seventh season.
“You could tell that this game meant an awful lot to them,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “Coach really had them ready mentally and emotionally, and I thought that they played with a tremendous amount of togetherness.”
White revamped his roster with four additional transfers, and three of them came up big against the Seminoles (1-1). Brandon McKissic and Myreon Jones scored 12 points apiece and Phlandrous Fleming added nine off the bench.
Anthony Duruji chipped in 15 points and seven rebounds for the Gators.
“This game was really personal,” Duruji said. “A lot of factors. I would say Keyontae. I would say it’s been seven years since we beat FSU. It’s a rivalry, so we know we had to come prepared as can be.”
Florida dominated the second half after trailing by one at the break. The Gators pressured every dribble, forced errant shots and controlled the boards. Castleton led the way, notching eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks in the second half.
Florida led by as many as 19 points, getting the O’Connell Center rocking for the first time in a long time.
“They started feeding off that energy,” said Malik Osborne, who led FSU with 18 points and six rebounds. “They clearly wanted the game more than us and had more pride than us.”
Matthew Cleveland added 11 points and six boards for the Seminoles, who played without 7-foot-2 center Tanor Ngom (concussion). Hamilton said he didn’t think Ngom would have made a difference.
Castleton dominated inside, though. He made 5 of 9 shots, 5 of 6 free throws and got half his rebounds on the offensive glass.
Johnson celebrated every one of them from the bench. He collapsed on the court on Dec. 12, becoming a trauma patient in front of shocked teammates, coaches, opponents and everyone else in attendance.
Johnson hasn’t played since, and there’s been no announcement as to what caused him to fall face-first to the court after an early timeout. He remains part of Florida’s team as he decides whether to try to play professionally or cash in a $5 million insurance policy.
Johnson was right in the middle of the celebration after Sunday’s victory. He and teammates doused White in the locker room so much that the coach had to change into a T-shirt before his postgame news conference.
“They got me. I have the shivers,” White said.
Florida State might fall out of the next AP college basketball poll, which gets released Monday.
Florida State: Hamilton lost his top three scorers from last year’s team but still looks like he has a young group capable of growing and competing for the Atlantic Coast Conference title and making another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Florida: White has five transfers – two newcomers and three holdovers – in his starting lineup and, after some games and weeks to gel, it should be a much more formidable unit by the time the Southeastern Conference schedule begins in late December.
Florida State: Hosts Tulane on Wednesday night.
Florida: Hosts Milwaukee on Thursday night.
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