Florida escapes with win over Saint Joseph’s behind Johnson’s career-high 22 points

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Florida forward Keyontae Johnson scored a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic on Thursday. [AP Photo/Matt Stamey/File]

By PETE IACOBELLI/ AP Sports Writer

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami (4-1) here Friday at 12 p.m. (ESPN2) for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals. The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators were No. 6 in the preseason rankings, but have since fallen out with losses to Florida State and UConn. They’re hoping a strong showing in Charleston will move them back in the right direction.

FLORIDA MATCHUP

The Gators have already lost to Florida State. They get the chance to redeem themselves against another major rival in Miami. Florida last played the Hurricanes in November 2016, winning 65-56. Florida has won five of the past eight basketball meetings between the schools.

FLORIDA 70, SAINT JOSEPH’S 62
FLORIDA (3-2)

Blackshear 0-0 1-2 1, Johnson 9-15 2-5 22, Nembhard 6-20 2-2 16, Lewis 2-4 4-6 8, Locke 4-9 2-2 13, Payne 1-3 2-3 4, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Glover 2-5 2-3 6. Totals 24-56 15-23 70.

SAINT JOSEPH’S (2-3)

Funk 5-14 1-2 11, Douglas 1-5 6-7 8, Edwards 1-7 0-2 3, Daly 11-26 2-2 25, Brown 0-3 0-0 0, Knox 2-6 0-0 4, Longpre 0-0 0-0 0, Ashley 0-1 0-0 0, Moore 3-4 4-6 11. Totals 23-66 13-19 62.

Halftime_Florida 41-25. 3-Point Goals_Florida 7-22 (Locke 3-7, Johnson 2-5, Nembhard 2-7, Lewis 0-1, Glover 0-2), Saint Joseph’s 3-23 (Moore 1-1, Daly 1-5, Edwards 1-5, Brown 0-1, Ashley 0-1, Douglas 0-1, Knox 0-2, Funk 0-7). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 39 (Johnson 12), Saint Joseph’s 36 (Daly 10). Assists_Florida 9 (Blackshear 3), Saint Joseph’s 9 (Daly 3). Total Fouls_Florida 21, Saint Joseph’s 20. Technicals_Johnson, Daly. Ejected_Blackshear.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Good to see the Gators win the battle of the boards without Blackshear. Johnson is a great rebounder at just 6’5″. He’s strong and tough, and the Gators could use a little more of that. Payne continues to play well.

    As David has pointed out on another article, Nembhard’s inability to hit open shots is hurting the Gators. He does a great job to get an easy shot at the rim, and he rolls it around and off. He loses his man for an open 6 footer in the lane and leaves it short. The missed opportunities didn’t cost the Gators a win today, but next time they may not be so lucky. It may be a little unfair to single out Nembhard, but aside from Blackshear, he’s the most seasoned leader on the team.

    • Sorry Joe, we did not win the battle of the boards. St. Jo’s had 14 – 10 advantage in offensive rebounds. Yeah, we may have had more total rebounds but I’m gonna say we did not get the ones that mattered.

      The Blackshear ejection was unfair. It was a foul. A Flagrant foul, but he was not trying to hurt anyone. Just trying to possess the ball. And yeah, players are taught to swing their arms. The flagrant 2 call was unwarranted.

      Nice to get the victory, but lots more to do this weekend. There were shades of an offense starting to emerge. I really hope Mike can get it working by the end of the day on Sunday.

      Hats off to Keyontae. He came thru when the team needed it. I did see some “let me do it” from the freshman Lewis and Glover. I would advise them to temper that until they have actually done something. Small step in the right direction today. Tomorrow hopefully we take another.

  2. Gotcha, David. Can’t see offensive boards in this boxscore, and it isn’t mentioned here in the article. Only caught the second half, part on radio, part on TV. I remember now that Mick said they had the advantage in that category. Really nothing new, though. Just glad it wasn’t worse than that.

    Think I recall you posting that you were going to the games. Hope you enjoy.

  3. Payne had 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 assist to go along with 4 points in 28 minutes. Nice effort in Blackshear’s absence.

    Regarding offensive rebounds, I’d like to see the second chance points comparison to see if the Hawks were able to take advantage of those extra shots.

    • I’m with ya, Jack. They actually have been in together briefly, if I’m remembering correctly. I know Blackshear and Jitoboh have been in together. I’d like to see it more often. Blackshear has the ability to play the 4, so there’s no reason they can’t do it.

    • Love to see that, too, Jack. But we all know Florida’s H.C. Mike White loves a 3 Guard system, with a K.J., and Blackshear down low. But I’d love to see Jotiboh (spelling), and Payne, and a Blackshear on the court at the same time… JUST TO SEE… what they could do in the paint and on the glass. But either way, Go Gators! BEAT THE candy ‘Canes of Miami!

  4. White must be tearing his hair out over the Gators’ failure to block out again and again. St. Joe’s resurgence in the second half had nothing to do with Blackshear’s absence, but in St. Joe’s decision to keep feeding someone in the post (maybe Blackshear might have been able to stop some of those shots, but he is not really that bulky or strong, like Patrick Young or John Egbuno, although he scores a lot more than either of them) who either scored on shots or fouls. For a while, Gators going to the zone stopped that, but inexplicably down the stretch they went back to man-to-man and St. Joe’s came back again. Very interesting final 5 minutes offensively when Nembhard kept the ball and the rest of the team spread out along the baseline leaving Nembhard to go one on one all alone. Unfortunately, he missed too many shots, but it was still an interesting approach and in the long run won.

  5. Offense is looking better vs. Miami. Scottie Lewis is starting to blossom. But we are clearly not the same team though without Blackshear on the floor. D has been solid but then inexplicably Miami will get off a shot and it will fall. Guys are playing more like a team. I am becoming encouraged.

  6. Shots weren’t falling for Miami like they were in the first half. They were taking and making difficult shots in the first half. I didn’t think the odds would continue in their favor in the second half. Luck typically evens out with a larger sample size.

    Gators reduced their turnovers in the second half from 8 to 4. Good win against an ACC team for the Gators.