Short-handed Florida outlasts Virginia Tech in NCAA opener

Big Tournament

Florida guard Noah Locke (10) shoots against Virginia Tech in the second half of a first round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Friday, March 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

By TIM BOOTH AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Florida is heading to the second round for an eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance — and with arguably its best player on the bench as a de facto assistant coach. Colin Castleton scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Tre Mann hit a step-back 3-pointer with 23 seconds left in overtime and seventh-seeded Florida held off No. 10 seed Virginia Tech 75-70 in a first-round game. The Gators were cheered on by Keyontae Johnson, who has supported and inspired his teammates from the bench since his return from a scary medical episode. Johnson collapsed on the court during a game in December. Nahiem Alleyne finished with 30 points for Virginia Tech, including a 3-pointer that sent the game to overtime.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Florida is heading to the second round for an eighth straight NCAA Tournament appearance — and with arguably its best player on the bench as a de facto assistant coach.

Colin Castleton scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Tre Mann hit a step-back 3-pointer with 23 seconds left in overtime and the seventh-seeded Gators held off No. 10 seed Virginia Tech 75-70 in a first-round game on Friday.

Florida was cheered on by Keyontae Johnson, who has supported and inspired his teammates from the bench since his return from a scary medical episode. Johnson collapsed on the court during a game in December and was hospitalized, forcing him to sit out the rest of the season.

Castleton, a transfer from Michigan, was dominant on the inside and Mann showed up with a pair of key 3-pointers late to send the Gators (15-9) into the second round to face the Ohio State-Oral Roberts winner.

Mann hit a 3 with 2:49 left in regulation, a shot that became huge as Virginia Tech rallied in the closing seconds and forced overtime on Nahiem Alleyne’s 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left. Mann’s second big 3-pointer gave the Gators a 74-70 lead and proved enough after Cordell Pemsel’s missed jumper with 10 seconds left.

Mann, an all-SEC performer, finished with 14 points. Scottie Lewis added 15 for the Gators.

Alleyne was brilliant for the Hokies (15-7) through regulation but was held to just one basket in overtime. He finished with 30 points and scored the final 12 of regulation for Virginia Tech.

Tyrece Radford added 16 points for the Hokies and Hunter Cattoor finished with 11 off the bench. Virginia Tech hit 5 of its first 10 3-point attempts, but made just two the rest of the way.

The opener of the tournament at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse didn’t disappoint for drama as the short-handed Gators trailed by 10 in the first half and faced a 44-36 deficit with 15 minutes left before chipping away.

The Gators did it this time without forward Omar Payne, who was benched by coach Mike White, and after losing Tyree Appleby midway through the second half to injury.

NO PAYNE

Payne was ejected from the SEC Tournament quarterfinals early in the second half for a flagrant-2 foul against Tennessee’s John Fulkerson. Fulkerson suffered a concussion and facial fracture and is uncertain for Tennessee’s opener against Oregon State.

Payne started eight of 23 games and averaged 3.7 points, but the school said he would not play Friday as a coach’s decision.

HINKLE’S LIGHT

The first NCAA Tournament game at Hinkle Fieldhouse in 81 years was rife with history, nostalgia and … sunlight. A cloudless day had sun pouring in through the windows at the top of the arched, steel-truss roof. Windows on the concourse level along the South side of the building had shades pulled down to block the sun, but there were sunspots dotting the north end of the court.

The only previous NCAA Tournament action inside Hinkle occurred in 1940. Indiana beat Duquesne 39-30 on March 23, 1940 to win the East Regional.

UP NEXT

The Gators will try and reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2017.

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