One second-half burst by Florida, fueled by someone who barely played in the first half because foul trouble, was enough to break LSU’s five-game win streak on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville.
Center Colin Castleton scored 17 of Florida’s first 19 second-half points as his team-high 21 points sparked the Gators to an 83-79 SEC victory.
It wasn’t any surprise to the Tigers’ (6-2, 1-1 overall) that the 6-11 Castleton, a Michigan transfer, was so effective. They saw film of his 23-point effort in Florida’s 19-point win at Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.
“He (Castleton) was coming off a big game and we knew he’d come out strong the second half,” said LSU forward Trendon Watford, who scored 21 points and grabbed a team-high 8 rebounds despite playing on a gimpy right ankle. “It was a big turn in the game with him rebounding and scoring down low. We watched film on him. That’s on us (players). We’ve got to a better job of guarding their bigs.”
As poorly as LSU played in the second half – the Tigers trailed by 10 points six times in the last 12 minutes including 78-68 with 6:15 left – they managed to stay close because they made free throw after throw with the game clock stopped.
At one point in the game’s last 12 minutes, LSU freshman guard Cam Thomas drained six straight free throws. Thomas, the SEC’s leading scorer who’s also tied for third in the nation, scored 15 of LSU’s last 27 points and finished with a game-high 28 points including 11 of 11 free throws.
“You’re down, you’ve got to get free throws and stop the clock,” said Thomas, who had his worst shooting game of the season hitting 7 of 19 shots but yet nailed a deep corner 3-pointer to cut the Florida lead to 80-77 with 19 seconds left. “I would like to have had one more minute because I think we would have pulled it off. But it is what it is.”
LSU’s downslide started in the last minute of the first half. The Tigers led 40-35 after a Thomas 4-point play, but the Gators scored five straight including Anthony Duriji’s 3-pointer with three seconds left that tied the game 40-40 at the half.
It took LSU 11:46 of the second half to equal the 17 points Castleton scored in the first 7:23 after halftime.
“The two minutes before halftime and the four and five minutes coming out of half, those middle seven or eight minutes is where we lost the game,” LSU coach Will Wade said.
Tigers’ starting forward Darius Days played just 10 minutes in the second half because of foul trouble and finished with just 2 points and 3 rebounds. Josh LeBlanc, Days’ backup, fouled out in the second half without a point or a rebound.
Since Days and LeBlanc were mostly in foul jail, Florida went to work in the second half on the offensive boards. The Gators scored 12 points off 10 offensive boards in the final 20 minutes, with Duruji collecting 5 of his 6 offensive rebounds after halftime and finishing with 16 points.
LSU returns to action on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. SEC home game against Georgia.