Florida advanced to the second round of the 2021 men's NCAA tournament with a 75-70 overtime victory over Virginia Tech on Friday at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Hokies, the No. 10 seed in the South Region, came out firing on all cylinders to build a 10-point lead midway through the first half. The seventh-seeded Gators trailed by six at the break but opened the second half with a quick 5-0 run to get right back in the game.
Florida gained control of the contest heading into the final minutes of regulation, leading by as many as six, but struggles inbounding the ball and a pair of missed free throws by Anthony Duruji opened the door for a three by Virginia Tech's Nahiem Alleyne with less than two seconds left to force overtime.
The Gators regrouped to outscore the Hokies 11-6 in the extra period to move on.
Colin Castleton (UF): 19 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks
Scottie Lewis (UF): 15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists
Tre Mann (UF): 14 points, 4 assists
Nahiem Alleyne (VT): 28 points
Tyrece Radford (VT): 18 points
Keve Aluma (VT): 7 points, 7 rebounds
Florida Depth Shines Through In Crunch Time
The Gators' depth has been challenged all season since Keyontae Johnson, the preseason SEC Player of the Year, collapsed on the court during a game in mid-December. He returned to the sideline, working as a de facto assistant coach, but his dynamic scoring ability has been missed.
His absence did put more pressure on other players to step up. Scottie Lewis is one of the reserves who's often answered the bell, and he did so again with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the tournament opener.
Noah Locke, whose scoring impact had faded in recent weeks after a strong midseason surge, also came up with some key buckets against the Hokies en route to a 10-point outing.
Those performances were even more important since Florida lost Tyree Appleby for most of the second half and the entirety of overtime after he took an accidental elbow to the face.
Being able to rely on such a wide variety of players in the latter stages of second half and in the extra period shifted the game's balance of power, which was up for grabs throughout, in UF's favor.
It wasn't a perfect performance from the Gators, who shot 66.7 percent from the free-throw line and turned the ball over 18 times, but they found a way to advance with room to improve in the second round.
Virginia Tech Offense Goes Cold After Hot Start
Alleyne and Radford carried the Hokies on their shoulders for most of the afternoon. Yet, they went through a dry spell in the second half and it brought the offense to a screeching halt.
The rest of Virginia Tech's players combined to shoot 37.5 percent from the field (9 of 24), and Hunter Cattoor was the only player other than Alleyne to hit a three-pointer in the game.
That's how a team that was on pace for over 80 points during the game's opening 10 minutes didn't reach that threshold even with the benefit of the five extra minutes of overtime.
The Hokies entered March Madness having only played three games since Feb. 6 because of COVID-19 protocols, and it's fair to wonder whether that lack of consistent activity led to the lack of rhythm that was on display after their strong opening stretch Friday.
That said, the good news for Virginia Tech is its expected to return all of the key players from this year's roster next season, which could make them a major factor in next year's Big Dance.
Florida moves on to face the winner of the matchup between No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 15 seed Oral Roberts in the round of 32 on Sunday.
Virginia Tech finishes its 2020-21 season with a 15-7 record.