After dropping from No. 6 all the way to unranked, the Florida men’s basketball team is back in the top-25 after becoming the first SEC program to win the Charleston Classic — another boost for one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules.
The Gators look to keep the momentum going against Marshall University tonight in the O’Connell Center.
“We’ve got to defend really well, really early. That thing is going up. Their tempo is really, really fast. They really space you,” White said of Marshall. “They are good on the offensive glass. Defensively, they are big. They start really big, long, and they can block shots and alter their shots. They play unconventionally, a unique style defensively, which is tough to prepare for.”
The Gators scored 70 points or more in wins over St. Joseph’s, Miami and then-No. 18 Xavier in Charleston, where their shooters bounced back — although the star of the show was sophomore Keyontae Johnson.
Thanks to his burgeoning offensive game, the 6-foot-5 wing was named the Charleston Classic’s Most Valuable Player after averaging 16.3 points and eight rebounds. Johnson was recognized as the SEC Player of the Week following the tournament, the first conference honor of his young career, and White expects his improved offensive play to continue against the Thundering Herd and beyond thanks to Johnson’s off-the-court preparation.
“He got better throughout his freshman year, played his best basketball late, has continued to play well this year. He’s embraced a unique role. Works, he’s matured,” White said of Johnson. “This guy, leading into that tournament where we were going to play three games in four days, he was getting extra conditioning on his own to try to improve his cardio and his motor, his wind, during games. He deserves to see a little success, he’s worked hard. He’s a good player.”
Johnson’s impressive stretch was hardly the lone bright spot from UF’s first stretch of games away from home, too. In Florida’s 20-point win over Miami, the Gators showed no signs of second-half fatigue in outscoring the ‘Canes 33-13 over the final 15 minutes.
And after seeing its double-digit lead over Xavier trimmed to one-possession in the final minutes Sunday, Florida locked down on defense and contested Paul Scruggs’ 3-point attempt before securing the victory. White admitted UF still has much to improve upon despite a positive outcome.
For a team like the Gators, on-the-court progression will be a consistent theme this season, with said capacity determined by the team’s willingness to grow.
So far, early results have been promising.
“You can learn from all of these games, especially the close ones. So many teaching points to be made. Our guys have been very receptive,” White said. “Even though I think some guys can be more receptive after adversity and after a loss — it can sink in a little easier —I would still rather the alternative, I’d rather teach after a W.”
Keyontae Johnson F 6-5 231 So. 13.0 ppg 6.6 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.F 6-10 241 Gr. 13.3 ppg 9.6 rpg
Andrew Nembhard G 6-5 193 So. 10.3 ppg 5.4 apg
Noah Locke G 6-3 207 So. 8.1 ppg 1.9 3fg
Scottie LewisG 6-5 185 Fr. 8.7 ppg 3.9 rpg
Iran BennettF 6-9 299 RSo. 8.4 ppg 5.2 rpg
Jannson WilliamsF 6-9 215 RJr. 9.0 ppg 5.0 rpg
Mikel BeyersF6-9 215 Jr. 6.6 ppg 2.4 rpg
Taevion KinseyG 6-5 185 So. 15.0 ppg 6.6 rpg
Jarrod WestG 5-11 185 Jr. 15.4 ppg 3.0 rpg
Notes: Florida had held all opponents to this season to 65 or fewer points. The Gators’ defense ranks 16th nationally in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency … Florida and Marshall square off for the first time in program history, with the Gators back at home after hoisting the trophy in the Charleston Classic … UF and Marshall share the Billy Donovan connection, as Donovan was hired away from Marshall in 1996 after his two seasons leading the Thundering Herd.