Freshman Johnson making most of his opportunity for Florida

Florida freshman forward Keyontae Johnson drives the ball up court Wednesday against Ole Miss at Exactech Arena. Johnson, starting for the fourth straight game, had career-high 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting and six rebounds before fouling out halfway through overtime with UF up seven. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Despite another strong performance, Keyontae Johnson won’t be the talk of the town — that honor, thanks to a game-saving 3-pointer, belongs to KeVaughn Allen — but the high-flying freshman continues to impress the Florida faithful and his head coach.

Making his fourth collegiate start, Johnson scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in UF’s 90-86 overtime win against the Ole Miss Rebels, although it requires advanced analytics to explain just how good the athletic wing was Wednesday night.

Johnson finished with a plus/minus of plus-18, the highest mark of the game between either team, and his presence consistently rattled Mississippi on the offensive end.

And offensively, Johnson has started to show signs of improvement. Dubbed, unfairly perhaps, as simply a high-energy scorer, Johnson has begun to expand his repertoire. He’s hit two of his previous three attempts from long range, bringing him to 40 percent on the season from shots beyond the arc.

“I just stay after it in practice, try and get more shots up,” Johnson said. “I feel like it’s carrying over to the game now. High school and college are way different, but I’m shooting way better than what I was.”

Considering he’s still getting his feet wet in collegiate play, one would expect Johnson to be elated with his performance against Ole Miss. But with the team struggling to keep postseason aspirations alive heading into the final stretch, Johnson isn’t getting complacent.

“As a team, we’ve started over. We’re 1-0 right now,” Johnson said. “I can do a little bit better, just pushing up the court and doing more defensively. I don’t think I was that good today, so I feel like I can get better on defense and just have a better overall game.”

It’s no secret that, despite Allen’s heroics against the Rebels, the Gators still have much to play for this season in large part due to the efforts of the fresh faces on the roster.

Shooting guard Noah Locke turned in a team-high 22 points in a career-high 42 minutes and point guard Andrew Nembhard provided 12 points and six assists in 36 minutes, and the efforts of the latest crop of Gators wasn’t lost on coach Mike White.

“Collectively, it was the best game our freshmen have played,” White said. “It might have been Keyontae’s best game.

“He’s come a long way. He’s taken advantage.”

At just over .500 in conference play, the Gators are well aware of the need to make like Johnson and capitalize on opportunities with just 11 games remaining on the slate.

And if Wednesday’s showing was any indication, victories should be easier to come by with Johnson helping lead the charge.

“This brings a lot of confidence to the team. It can get our mojo going,” Johnson said. “Everybody feels good right now.”

Up next

Who: No. 7 Kentucky (17-3, 6-1 SEC) vs. Florida (12-8, 4-3)

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: O’Connell Center


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


  1. KJ was impressive against Ole Miss, and I’m not surprised by his plus/minus rating. When he went out of the game for a while due to being hurt, the Gators lost the lead they had. If he had not been able to return, I doubt that they would have been in a position for KA to make the clutch three-pointer at the end of regulation. With the loss of Stone, the Gators really need him to continue to develop and make an even larger impact on the game. It will be interesting to see how much he can develop in the near future.

  2. I just hope they don’t try to force him into developing into a higher position simply because of our need there. Let him fully develop at the position he is best at. I know we are thin at 4/5, but the answer is not to push others into those roles, but to play to the strengths we do have, be it a 3 guard or if needed a 4 guard rotation. Get the best players at their best positions out there. 6’5″ is not gonna be a strong 4 in this league. But could be a great 3.

    I’d love to see more penetration from our wings myself, we have some guys that can do that, but too often we just keep looking for that open 3. 3’s are much easier to defend if there is no paint scoring threat. Wings–you are allowed to drive for layups, I checked the rulebook. 🙂

  3. Phil: you really play down any potential impact of getting an unlikely win on Saturday. If we win Saturday, it will be a huge accomplishment for just beating our basketball rival, let alone what it may mean to our future tournament aspiration! I am hoping for a win but I don’t expect one. I am neutral 50-50. I’ll be beside myself if we win. Regardless, I am supporting and cheering for our Gators! Go Gators!