Colin Castleton had 18 points and 13 rebounds and made a go-ahead dunk and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. had 18 points as third-seeded Florida held off scrappy Iona, 79-74 in a first-round NIT game Wednesday night in Gainesville, Fla.
Florida (20-13) advanced to play second-seeded Xavier (19-13) in Cincinnati on Sunday. The Gators were playing their first game under interim head coach Al Pinkins, who replaced Mike White after he left to coach Georgia.
Tyree Appleby and Kowacie Reeves each scored 14 points for Florida.
Nelly Joseph had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Dylan Van Eyck and Tyson Jolly each scored 15 points for Iona (25-8), which received an automatic bid as regular-season champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Elijah Joiner added 13 points for the Gaels, who led by eight early in the second half.
Iona rallied from a seven-point deficit to tie the score at 72 on Joiner’s three-pointer with 2:54 to go. But Castleton’s dunk off an inbounds pass by Appleby with 2:06 to go broke the tie and put Florida ahead to stay. The basket followed a steal by Florida’s Niels Lane.
After Joiner missed a three-point attempt, Fleming hit a jumper in the lane to give the Gators a 76-72 lead with 1:23 remaining. The Gaels didn’t get closer.
Florida finally went ahead with a 16-3 run that gave the Gators a 68-61 lead with 7:27 left in the game. Appleby had eight points during the spurt, including two three-pointers and a pair of free throws that put the Gators ahead, 60-59 with 9:21 to go.
After Jolly scored on a putback to put Iona back ahead, Appleby hit his two treys to put the Gators up, 66-61. Castleton’s dunk off a pass from Fleming made the score 68-61.
Perhaps the Gators were discombobulated by the coaching upheaval, because the underdog Gaels led almost throughout the opening half.
After Castleton scored off a pass from Lane to cut the deficit to 13-12, the Gaels used a 6-0 run to take 19-12 lead. The run included Jolly’s driving dunk off a feed from Quinn Slazinski.
Iona twice led by eight in the half, the last time at 29-21 on Van Eyck’s jumper with 5:29 left. But the Gators rallied with an 11-3 run and tied the score at 32 on two foul shots by Castleton with 2:15 to go in the half.
Iona ended the half with a 10-3 run, capped by a trey by Walter Clayton Jr. as time expired, for a 42-35 lead.
The Gators began chipping away at the visitors’ lead, which briefly reached eight again early in the second half. Castleton’s dunk trimmed Iona’s advantage to 52-49 with 14:09 to go, and a deep three by Myreon Jones with 12:15 left cut the Gaels’ lead to 54-52. But Jolly and Joseph scored back-to-back baskets in the paint to extend the lead to 58-52.
–Field Level Media