With a chance to pick up a win Wednesday over one of the SEC’s best and boost the team’s tournament resume, Florida once again got a lift from Keyontae Johnson.
The sophomore set a career-high with 25 points and added 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season, as Florida claimed a 81-66 win over LSU at Exactech Arena.
“It was a huge defensive effort,” Gators coach Mike White said. “We played about as well as we’ve played for, I’d say about 30 of the 40 minutes.”
Johnson scored 17 of his points on 8-for-9 shooting in the first half, and he didn’t let off the gas in the second half. A 3-pointer on UF’s first possession of the second half from Johnson pushed the lead to 13, and Florida (18-10, 10-5 SEC) cruised to the finish.
“I’m just playing at my pace. Just playing with confidence and shooting with confidence,” Johnson said. “Staying in the moment and letting the game come to me.”
Johnson made 11 of 15 shots. He added a game-high five assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
After UF allowed LSU to haul in 15 offensive rebounds in the first meeting between the two teams on Jan. 21, crashing the glass on the defensive end was one of Florida’s keys heading into the game, and the Gators were successful despite running a smaller line-up.
“I feel like we did good at keeping them off the offensive glass. We came out real aggressive and we boxed out,” Johnson said. “I feel like they didn’t do as well getting second-chance points, we did a great job of that as a team.”
At times the Tigers (19-9, 10-5) looked poised to explode with a scoring run of their own – each time, however, Florida answered.
LSU cut the lead to 63-50 and forced Tre Mann into a turnover on the very next possession, giving the visitors the momentum – albeit briefly.
But a block by Johnson on the ensuing sequence gave it right back to Florida, and five unanswered points from UF erased any notion the Tigers would flip the script.
“He just takes advantage of the mismatches,” LSU coach Will Wade said of Johnson. “We’ve never been able to guard Johnson, that’s two straight years of not being able to guard him. He loves when he sees the purple, he just lights up.”
After White once again voiced his displeasure earlier in the week regarding UF’s tendency to commit “careless” turnovers, Florida committed just five turnovers to LSU’s eight; the Gators allowed LSU to attempt just 12 free throws – a far cry from the previous meeting, where the Tigers made 24 of 31 attempts from the charity stripe in Baton Rouge, thanks in part to 15 offensive rebounds.
“Our scouting report defense, our focus, has been pretty good the last couple of games,” White said. “Tonight I thought we made an improvement in that regard.”
Considering LSU’s starting backcourt of Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays combined for 31 points and 14 assists in that prior meeting, Florida made it a point of emphasis to key in on the latter early and often, resulting in Mays’ lowest scoring performance of the season.
Meanwhile, Scottie Lewis, who came off the bench in that previous meeting, would finish with a career-high 18 points in 36 minutes – a move that may have ultimately tipped the scales in Florida’s favor.
“At the end I thought we were really aggressive against the press, made good decisions,” White said. “I think we’re getting closer to the way that we want to play, and we continue to develop in that category. Unfortunately we didn’t figure it out immediately, but we didn’t think we would either.”
Note: With Johnson’s 7th double-double, he and Kerry Blackshear (8) are the first Florida teammates with 7+ double-doubles each in a season since Joakim Noah and Al Horford in 2006-07. … The Gators won for the fourth time in five games, bolstering their NCAA Tournament resume with less than three weeks remaining before Selection Sunday. Florida now has six wins against teams in the top 50 of the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, the primary method used to select and seed the 68-team field.
Days 2-7 0-0 6, Hyatt 0-2 2-2 2, Watford 7-10 1-1 15, Mays 1-6 0-2 3, Smart 3-9 0-0 8, Williams 10-12 5-6 25, Taylor 1-5 0-0 2, Bishop 2-7 0-1 5, Graves 0-1 0-0 0, Cooper 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-59 8-12 66.
Blackshear 3-8 1-2 8, Johnson 11-15 1-2 25, Lewis 8-12 0-0 18, Locke 1-5 0-0 3, Nembhard 6-11 2-2 17, Mann 1-5 0-1 2, Jitoboh 3-3 0-0 6, Glover 1-3 0-0 2, Bassett 0-0 0-0 0, Payne 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-62 4-7 81.
Halftime_Florida 41-31. 3-Point Goals_LSU 6-23 (Days 2-5, Smart 2-5, Mays 1-2, Bishop 1-3, Graves 0-1, Watford 0-1, Williams 0-1, Hyatt 0-2, Taylor 0-3), Florida 9-21 (Nembhard 3-6, Johnson 2-3, Lewis 2-3, Locke 1-2, Blackshear 1-3, Glover 0-2, Mann 0-2). Fouled Out_Blackshear. Rebounds_LSU 27 (Watford 11), Florida 30 (Johnson 11). Assists_LSU 13 (Taylor, Bishop 3), Florida 17 (Johnson 5). Total Fouls_LSU 12, Florida 14.