Castleton had 19 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double, and the Gators dominated Milwaukee 81-45 on Thursday in their first game as a ranked team in nine months.
Florida looked the part.
So did Baldwin.
The Gators (3-0) issued 39 credentials spanning 22 NBA teams, all of them on hand to see Milwaukee’s freshman star. The 6-foot-9 guard had 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting. He added three rebounds, two blocks, two steals and an assist. He also had three turnovers in 34 minutes.
Baldwin, who landed at Milwaukee (1-2) mostly because his dad is the head coach, was as smooth as advertised. “PBJ” handles the ball, has the size to make hard passes look easy, breaks down defenders in a variety of ways and has NBA range despite missing all three 3-pointers.
“He had some open looks. He has to knock them down. He needs to be aggressive,” coach Pat Baldwin Sr. said. “If he has an advantage, he needs to attack and be decisive in those decisions. We need to get him better. I need to help him get some easier looks.”
This was one of Baldwin’s few appearances against high-major competition, so scouts wanted an up-close look. Baldwin had his moments for sure, dribbling through traffic, creating off the bounce and looking every bit ready for a bigger stage.
“It’s not about me showcasing Patrick to NBA teams, and Patrick knows that,” Baldwin Sr. said. “He’ll be the first one to tell you that, that it’s not about him. We have to be better for him and he has to be better for his teammates. If we’re looking at anything other than that, then shame on us. … This isn’t about who’s sitting in the stands and who has credentials.”
Those scouts had to notice Castleton, who put up 15 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in a lopsided victory against previously ranked Florida State on Sunday.
Castleton tested the NBA waters after last season but ended up returning to Florida for his senior season. The 6-11 forward from nearby DeLand is now averaging 16.7 points and 10.3 rebounds.
“Got a big inside that controls the ball,” Florida guard Tyree Appleby said. “Scoring-wise, defending-wise, you know he’s a problem.”
So are the Gators, who backed up their impressive showing against the Seminoles with an even more eye-opening performance.
“I think we know who we are: a gritty team,” Appleby said. “I think we definitely found an identity.”
Castleton led four Florida players in double figures. Appleby had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Phlandrous Fleming added 12 points. And Anthony Duruji chipped in 12 points and seven boards.
The Gators broke the game open to start the second half, using a 32-4 run to turn an 11-point lead into a laugher.
“The standard we set, the bar we set is really high,” Castleton said.
The Panthers shot at least four air balls, drawing chants from the home crowd. The fans also sang Baldwin “Happy Birthday” during one trip to the free-throw line.
“He was a big focal point,” Castleton said. “I think he’s going to be a big focal point for every team. He’s tall. He can dribble. He can shoot the ball really well and stuff. It was big for us to be able to focus on him and just making it tough for him, making him take tough shots. And he made a couple of tough ones.”
Milwaukee: Baldwin Jr. will be a huge draw all season – for opponents, fans and NBA teams. The McDonald’s All-American was considered the No. 4 player nationally in the 2021 class and the highest-ranked high school recruit to sign with a Horizon League program. He averaged 24.3 points and 10.8 rebounds as a junior at Hamilton High in Sussex, Wisconsin. He missed most of his senior year because of an ankle injury.
Florida: Coach Mike White has his best passing team in seven seasons in Gainesville. The Gators are experienced and unselfish, a result of White finding the right mix of guys to add from the transfer portal the last two years. Florida finished with a season-high 21 assists.
Florida: Plays California on Monday in the Fort Myers Tip-Off.