MVP Johnson leads Florida to 70-65 win over No. 18 Xavier

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Florida sophomore Keyontae Johnson goes up for a reverse layup over Xavier's defense in the first half Sunday during the finals of the Charleston Classic in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

By Pete Iacobelli, Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Florida’s finally happy to gain attention for who it beat than the teams its lost to this season.

Keyontae Johnson and Andrew Nembhard had 15 points each and Florida held off No. 18 Xavier 70-65 in the Charleston Classic championship Sunday night.

“It’s amazing,” Gators coach Mike White said, “to think where we were a week ago and where we are now.”

Last week, Florida was still in the national rankings and suffering its second loss in four games at UConn — it lost to Florida State on Nov. 10 — that led to questions about the team’s apparent free fall from preseason expectations where it started No. 6 in the country.

Johnson, named the tournament MVP, said the players didn’t get down or despondent about the defeats, just focused on turning things around.

“We just came to practice, worked on our roles and getting better from then until now,” he said.

That was apparent in three games here. The Gators (5-2) needed to hold off a late rally by Saint Joseph’s for a 66-62 victory Thursday in the tournament opener before a second-half surge led to a 20-point win over state rival Miami to send them to the title game.

Florida led by 10 points by halftime and stretched it to 17 points in a run where Nembhard had back-to-back 3s and Noah Locke followed with another from beyond the arc.

But just as Xavier (6-1) did against UConn for a double-overtime victory Friday night, the Musketeers caught fire. They clawed within 68-65 on Quentin Goodin’s 3-pointer with 1:08 left and had a shot to tie on Paul Scruggs’ clean look from three with 13 seconds to go. But the ball bounced twice on the rim and fell off where Kerry Blackshear Jr. grabbed it for the Gators, got fouled and made both free throws for the final margin.

“I’m glad that buzzer sounded,” White said. “I don’t know if we would’ve survived the OT.”

Florida players jumped around when the game ended and the large group of fans chanted and did the Gator chomp, glad to finally have something to cheer about.

Xavier struggled to make the outside shots it had hit consistently this season, going just 5 of 16 from beyond the arc against the Gators. And as the Musketeers’ shots kept missing, Florida kept swarming as it forced 16 turnovers, Xavier’s second-highest number of miscues in a game this fall.

Blackshear finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double of the tournament. Locke scored 13.

For Blackshear, the Virginia Tech grad transfer, it was the second straight season he celebrated a tournament title in Charleston after the Hokies captured the event last in 2018.

Scruggs led all scorers with 24 points while Tyrique Jones had 13.

Xavier coach Travis Steele acknowledged the team’s effort at coming back. He was more focused on the first 25 minutes where his normally steady team struggled to catch up to Florida’s players on defense.

“That’s just inexcusable. That’s not who we are,” he said. “We can’t be that way.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators look ready to re-enter the national college basketball conversation. They used a dominant second half in Friday’s semifinal to defeat state rival Miami 78-58 and proved their mettle against Xavier.

Xavier: The Musketeers and deep, gritty and talented. Their double-overtime win against UConn here Friday night showed all the characteristics that should carry it a long way in the Big East and beyond.

FRANK TALK

White said he never discussed Florida’s high expectations with his players during the offseason. He decided Tuesday to talk about what had gone wrong early and how things needed to improve. Florida’s players took it to heart in three games in Charleston, White said.

XAVIER’S ESCAPES

The Musketeers have made a habit of getting out of tight jams this season. They needed overtime to defeat Missouri before hold off Missouri State by three points. It took double OT for a 75-74 win over UConn that got them to the championship game. Florida’s Nembhard stayed up watching the whole contest, which ended near 1 a.m. “I was more nervous there and was about this,” he said, smiling.

UP NEXT

Florida: Hosts Marshall (2-3) at 9 p.m. Friday night.

Xavier: Hosts Lipscomb on Saturday.

FLORIDA 70, No. 18 XAVIER 65
FLORIDA (5-2)

Johnson 6-10 3-5 15, Blackshear 5-8 4-6 14, Locke 5-7 0-0 13, Lewis 1-7 2-2 4, Nembhard 5-9 2-2 15, Payne 0-0 0-0 0, Jitoboh 0-0 0-0 0, Glover 4-5 0-0 9, Mann 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-46 11-15 70.

XAVIER (6-1)

Carter 1-2 3-4 5, Jones 4-7 5-7 13, Marshall 3-8 0-0 6, Scruggs 10-22 2-2 24, Goodin 4-10 0-0 11, Freemantle 2-3 0-0 4, James 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 0-3 0-0 0, Bishop 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 24-55 12-15 65.

Halftime_Florida 39-29. 3-Point Goals_Florida 7-16 (Locke 3-4, Nembhard 3-5, Glover 1-2, Blackshear 0-1, Lewis 0-2, Johnson 0-2), Xavier 5-16 (Goodin 3-4, Scruggs 2-7, Marshall 0-2, Moore 0-3). Fouled Out_Scruggs. Rebounds_Florida 25 (Blackshear 10), Xavier 27 (Jones 7). Assists_Florida 8 (Nembhard 4), Xavier 13 (Carter, Marshall 4). Total Fouls_Florida 15, Xavier 18. Technicals_Florida team.

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. The Gators are very talented and learning to play better as a team. The Gator players are built for an attack offense and play much better that way. Need to attack for the whole 40 minutes. The last 4 minutes the slow ball came in effect and offense was generated within 5 seconds of the shot clock. Good thing Xavier missed the open 3, which would have tied the game. Nembhard keeps improving. Should have been on all tournament team. One of best point guards in the country when he can play his game. Glover has been the biggest surprise for me the past few games. One of the fastest Gator players in recent years. Goes right by opponents and is disruptive on defense. Xavier best team Gators have played all year. Gators would have blown FSU and UConn out if they would have played like this the past two games.

  2. That quick shot by Lewis with about 3 to play almost cost the Gators. If they run clock there and get a better shot, the game likely won’t finish as closely as it did. That allowed Xavier to get on a roll. However, this was by far the best stretch of basketball the Gators have played this year as they did it against a good team (that was 6-0 heading into the game). Shots starting to fall. Need to clean-up the turnovers still but really happy for the guys.

  3. While for the first time I saw a few Gators moving without the ball, the fact that they only had 8 assists tell you all you need to know. When they shoot well from the outside, they will win, but they can’t get easy baskets. No one ever drives and dishes off to an open player moving toward the basket. Whenever some Gator drives, the other four just watch. Again, they will beat ordinary teams and maybe some good ones if they have a good shooting night, but their five-point offense that plays one on one basketball is not championship grade, no matter how good their talent is.

    • I thought they did just exactly what you say they don’t do; they got easy shots. Johnson and Glover repeatedly drove to the rim for lay-ups. As far as driving and dishing goes, that’s only necessary when the driver is stopped. If he can get to the rim himself, that’s what he should do, and that’s what they did. But, if you insist on driving and dishing, there was nothing prettier than Nembhard driving around Blackshear’s pick and then finding him on the roll with a beautiful pocket pass. Blackshear’s dish to a cutting Johnson for the dunk was a close second.

      They may have only had 8 assists, but that’s not necessarily a sign of poor play. Nembhard had 9 by himself against Miami. Each game is different, so I’m not worried about a lack of assists in a single game. In fact, I think there were times against Xavier when they should’ve shot the ball instead of making the extra pass. This team isn’t selfish, so I think the assists issue will take care of itself.

      I agree there are things they need to work on. Against the press, the inbound receiver can’t stand there passively waiting for the double team to come smother him. When they’re trying to burn clock, they can’t stand around until their only option is a deep, contested 3 at the shot-clock buzzer. Scottie Lewis needs to recognize that when he gets an offensive rebound late in a close game, he can’t afford to waste that great effort by immediately launching a 12 foot jumper he has little chance of hitting.

      I think you’re right that the Gators aren’t playing “championship grade” basketball at the moment. But that’s going to happen with the freshmen playing such a large role. Let’s give them the rest of the non-conference schedule and few conference games to work on that before we judge them. This was a great win, so let’s enjoy it! Go Gators!

      • I am mostly with you on this Joe. I think maybe someone just looked at the boxscore before commenting? Anyway, except for Scottie, like you I thought play was pretty unselfish. And we did struggle *some* against the press and that winding the clock down just does not work well for us. We don’t have an “instant offense”. It takes time and a few passes for our offense to start to click. I get it, with a lead coach wants to take time off the clock but maybe run the shot clock to 15s before starting the play. Just a thought.

        Big shout out to Keyontae. An honor well deserved. I do think Charleston provided a good foundation on which an offense can be built. We are not there yet, but the signs were encouraging. Next real test is Butler on 12/7. I will be curious to see how the team reacts when the shots are not falling.

        D has been mostly good as well. I really like that 1-3-1 Mike puts on the floor from time to time. Go Gators!

  4. Great win last night and great tourney overall. Coach White has this young team back on schedule and they will continue to improve chemistry. Blackshear getting tossed vs St. Joe’s forced our scorers to step up. Offensive production was great against Miami and Xavier until we started killing clock. We need to remember this lesson throughout the season. Looks like a fun year to watch Gator Basketball.

  5. Movement without the ball, back door and slip screens, rotate through–these are things that still need improvement. But I saw a lot of offensive improvement these past 3 games, something that they lacked in their first 4 games. Keep improving as a team guys. You’re a lot more fun to watch when playing as a team.