MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Colin Castleton led the way for Florida in the second half – on offense and defense.
Castleton scored 15 of his 21 points after halftime, and the Gators beat No. 11 West Virginia 85-80 on Saturday in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
Castleton also led the defensive effort on West Virginia’s Derek Culver after he scored 21 in the first half. Culver finished with a career-high 28, but was bottled up late in the game and took fewer trips to the free-throw line.
“I thought Colin was really good defensively in the second half,” Florida coach Mike White said. “Much better. All of us were. Everyone that played, I thought, was a little bit more locked in defensively.”
Noah Locke had 19 points for Florida (10-4), which has won a season-high four straight. Tyree Applebee finished with 12.
“We let them get started. We didn’t guard them coming out of halftime,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “They’re good. They’ve got really good players. We just didn’t play with a lot of aggression.”
Culver made 7 of 11 field goals and 14 of 17 free throws. He also had 12 rebounds.
“Derek and I spent about an hour together yesterday after practice,” Huggins said. “All we did for an hour yesterday were the simple things with his post play and his free throws.”
The Gators went ahead to stay on Scottie Lewis’ tiebreaking 3-pointer with 4:05 remaining. Castleton followed with a three-point play, and he made two free throws to put the Gators up 83-80 with 1:36 remaining.
Castleton was called for an offensive foul with 59 seconds left, but West Virginia committed a shot-clock violation on the ensuing possession.
Appleby made two free throws with 28 seconds left for the final margin.
Castleton said Florida was “just being soft in the first half. We didn’t play hard enough. (Culver) got a bunch of easy buckets that he wasn’t supposed to. I kind of just zoned in on that in the second half and didn’t give him as much of easy looks as he had in the first half.”
Sean McNeil added 21 points and Taz Sherman scored 11 for the Mountaineers. Leading scorer Miles McBride, who had 24 points in an 88-87 win over No. 11 Texas Tech on Monday night, was held to nine.
“We gave up too many points in the paint. We’ve become too lackadaisical,” Culver said. “We got to get back to the drawing board.”
Florida improved to 7-3 since Southeastern Conference preseason player of the year Keyontae Johnson collapsed during a game in early December against Florida State. Johnson is back on the bench but only in a supporting role.
“We’ve revamped everything we’re doing offensively. So that’s taken time,” White said. “When we first came back, we were playing for Keyontae. We were playing on emotion as much as anything. We came back down to Earth a little bit. We’ve gotten to work and we’ve gotten better. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re obviously better than we were a couple weeks ago.”
Florida: The Gators shot 25 of 30 (83%) from the free-throw line. The real difference was in transition, where Florida outscored West Virginia 26-5 in fast-break points.
“Defense to a large degree is about heart and about competing,” Huggins said. “When you don’t compete, you get exposed. They’re just not as competitive as the guys we’ve had in the past. How do you not dive on the floor for a loose ball in a game like this?”
West Virginia: The Mountaineers faded down the stretch and now turn to their most grueling stretch of the season with eight games in three weeks, including five on the road. Six of those matchups are against ranked opponents.
Florida assistant coach Darris Nichols faced Huggins for the third time. The Gators beat West Virginia in the 2016 Big 12/SEC Challenge in Gainesville, Florida, and at the 2018 Jimmy V Classic. Nichols was a point guard at West Virginia in Huggins’ first season in 2007-2008.
Despite beating No. 10 Texas Tech last Monday, Saturday’s loss could prevent West Virginia from moving into the top 10 of the AP poll.