Uncertain whether Kerry Blackshear Jr. will play, Florida will take on Georgia at about 3:25 p.m. today in the second round of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
After exiting Senior Day having played just 12 minutes, X-rays on Blackshear’s injured wrist came back negative Sunday, although he was held out of practice all week. If he can’t play, Florida coach Mike White said the team’s offense “absolutely” changes — and not for the better, in case that, too, were uncertain.
“You’re so less versatile offensively. The stuff we’re best at offensively is with KJ (Blackshear) on the floor. Period,” White said. “We play through him. On the elbows, at the top of the key, in the slots, on the blocks, he scores it, he drives it, he draws fouls, he passes it. Arguably our best decision maker. Definitely our most vocal offensive player as well — directing traffic. It’s different when he is out. We’re not as effective offensively, not as effective protecting our glass and still a work in progress offensively when he is out.”
Fortunately, Blackshear’s frontcourt partner has blossomed this season into a two-way player for the Gators.
After averaging 14.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in conference play in the regular season, sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson was named to the coaches’ All-SEC first team. The Norfolk, Virginia, native said he wasn’t sure he’d make the first team, meaning it was hard for Johnson to hold back his reaction when he heard the news — which came during an on-campus study session.
“I wasn’t expecting it, I mean, I thought I was going to be either first or second team, but when I got the news, I kind of got hyped off it,” Johnson said. “I was in the Hawkins Center and I just, like, started screaming.”
It was a rare moment of self-indulgence for Johnson, a player who White said epitomizes a team player by both taking advantage of and relying on his teammates.
“Part of the reason Keyontae has received the accolades that he’s had, and he’s had a good season, is he plays with a really good point guard, a really good passer in KJ, I think, he stretches that floor for you — a 5 that can pass it, shoot and make decisions like he can. So Keyontae has benefited from his teammates, and he knows that,” White said. “He has had a great year. Very good player getting better and better. His confidence has grown, his skill level has grown, his feel, his tempo.”
As the Gators have struggled at times this season, White has been open about the growing pains that come with coaching a team constructed primarily of underclassmen still maturing to the collegiate level. Yet when it comes to Johnson, those problems are non-existent, which has allowed him to maintain an upward trajectory, White said.
“We’ve had no drama with Keyontae, and that’s been a factor, too. He just comes to work. He hasn’t had one of those days that he is really whiny. He hasn’t had one of those days where he is just real selfish and he is trying to get his in a game. He hasn’t had a day where he just didn’t feel like working,” White said. “It’s pretty simple: he is giving himself a chance to get better and better through maturity and consistency. His parents are great. They’re continuously checking in on him, and if he has just an average day, he is hearing about it.
“We always talk about these guys’ circles, and we’re always challenging, ‘keep your circle really healthy’. Oftentimes, young men, especially at his age — freshmen, sophomores — benefit from their circle and he has a strong circle as well. So proud of him and his progress.”
Notes: The Gators are 45-50 all-time in SEC Tournament action, including 4-3 vs. the Rebels and 2-1 against the Bulldogs. Regardless of opponent, it will be Florida’s 3rd meeting of the season, as UF swept Georgia and split with Ole Miss in regular season play…UF led the SEC in 3-point percentage (.376) and field goal percentage (.470) during conference play. Noah Locke’s .481 3-point percentage in SEC action also led the league…Through Mike White’s first 5 seasons as the Gators’ head coach, Florida’s 54 conference wins trail only Kentucky over that time span…The Gators, who have the 7th-youngest team out of all 353 Division I teams, projects to be the youngest team competing in the 2020 NCAA Tournament (based on Joe Lunardi’s current field).
BOTTOM LINE: Georgia is set to square off against Florida in the second round of the SEC tourney. In the regular season, Florida won both of the head-to-head matchups. The teams last faced each other on March 4, when the Gators outshot Georgia 46.4 percent to 43.5 percent and had eight fewer turnovers en route to a 68-54 victory.
FAB FRESHMEN: Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, Sahvir Wheeler and Toumani Camara have collectively scored 45 percent of the team’s points this season and have accounted for 60 percent of all Bulldogs scoring over the last five games.
ACCURATE ANTHONY: Edwards has connected on 29.4 percent of the 245 3-pointers he’s attempted and has made 10 of 42 over the last five games. He’s also made 77.2 percent of his free throws this season.
SIGNIFICANCE OF 61: Georgia is 0-7 when its offense scores 61 points or fewer. Florida is a perfect 10-0 when it holds opponents to 61 or fewer points.
UNDEFEATED WHEN: The Gators are 10-0 when they hold opposing teams to 61 points or fewer and 9-12 when opponents exceed 61 points. The Bulldogs are 5-0 when the team blocks at least six shots and 11-16 when they fall short of that total.
DID YOU KNOW: Georgia is ranked second in the SEC with an average of 72.6 possessions per game.