No. 24 Florida mindful of direction as Milwaukee arrives

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Propelled by ending a prolonged losing streak against one of their biggest rivals, the Florida Gators look to continue a sizzling start when they host Milwaukee on Thursday in Gainesville, Fla.

Led by Colin Castleton's 15 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks, the No. 24 Gators (2-0) ended a seven-game losing streak against in-state rival Florida State with a 71-55 win on Sunday at home.

Florida knocked the Seminoles out of the top 25 with the victory.

But it meant far more to the Gators, who a year ago lost one of the key members of their team, Keyontae Johnson, in a game at FSU.

Johnson collapsed on the court during last year's game on Dec. 12, 2020, and has not played since.

"I was happy for our players, happy for our fans and happy for our coaches, of course, but mostly I was happy for Keyontae," said Gators coach Mike White, who shared a hug with Johnson on the court after Sunday's game.

Castleton's final stat line against FSU coupled with an 18-point, six-block, four-assist performance earlier in the week against Elon earned him SEC Player of the Week honors.

Castleton led a balanced scoring effort as three other Gators -- Myreon Jones, Anthony Duruji and Brandon McKissic all scored in double figures. Florida ramped up its defense in the second half, holding the Seminoles to only 9-for-27 shooting while forcing 11 turnovers. Florida broke the game open with a 29-8 surge over a nine-minute span.

"I feel like we beat them at their game," Castleton said.

The Gators' frontcourt faces a tough challenge in Milwaukee 6-foot-9 forward and NBA prospect Patrick Baldwin Jr.

Milwaukee (1-1) followed up a season-opening win over North Dakota with a 77-71 home loss to Eastern Kentucky on Saturday. The Panthers trailed by 15 at halftime and never fully recovered despite a solid performance from Baldwin Jr., who totaled 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

Milwaukee couldn't handle the pressure defense applied by EKU and committed 15 turnovers in the first half.

"I think it's (us) not having seen a press like that," Milwaukee coach Pat Baldwin said. "I think we had the right scheme in place, but I think it was maybe some nerves. I've got to do a better job of putting our guys in position, to help them get through that stretch where we started turning the ball over and giving them momentum."

Baldwin Jr., who is rated among the top five prospects for next year's NBA draft, is off to a solid start averaging 20 points and 10.5 rebounds through the first two games.

There were bright spots though as Josh Thomas totaled 23 points, six rebounds and shot 10-for-12 from the field. Deandre Gholston scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds to follow up a 14-point, six-rebound effort in the Panthers' season opener.

Thomas, however, took little solace in his performance.

"I'm a 100-percent sore loser," Thomas said. "I wanted to win the game. Honestly, wholeheartedly, that's how I feel. I didn't do enough, and my team didn't do enough. We couldn't be more prepared. We had everything set up for what we were supposed to do. As a team, we've got to get better, and we've got to execute."

--Field Level Media