Inching closer to the NCAA Tournament, the Florida men’s basketball team looks to pick up just its fourth road win of the season when it tips off at 2 p.m. against Tennessee in Thompson-Boling Arena.
After Wednesday’s dominant 81-66 win over LSU — a game in which Florida never trailed — the Gators (18-10, 10-5 SEC) sit in a tie with the Tigers for third place in the SEC and have bolstered their odds of making the NCAA Tournament.
There’s still work to be done, however.
“We’re playing better. We still have room for improvement, as do most teams. We’re definitely more connected, for the most part. I thought we had outlier a couple games ago with our lack of ball movement. We did some shot hunting. If we do that tomorrow in Knoxville, we won’t have a chance,” UF coach Mike White said. “We have to play together. We have to play with maturity and unselfishness. But we’re getting there. Hopefully, we can continue to trend upward.”
Continual improvement rather than peaks-and-valleys has been the focus all season for White and the coaching staff; Florida’s preseason No. 6 ranking, while nice, didn’t align with White’s internal assessment of the team in the preseason — a point he has stated publicly, too — though he’s maintained the Gators have top-10 potential.
Performances like the game prior furthered that notion, although few predicted Keyontae Johnson’s offensive emergence would be the catalyst.
Johnson turned in another stellar scoring performance against the Tigers, scoring 17 points in the first half while hitting his first eight shots from the field.
When it comes to slowing down Johnson, who’s averaging 14.7 points in SEC play while shooting 56.3% from the field, White expects the Volunteers (15-13, 7-8) to be prepared.
“He is in a good rhythm. He is a good player. I’m sure Tennessee will have some answers,” White said. “They’re sound and they’re disciplined, and they are as athletic and long I think as any team we will play this year. They have the ability to switch multiple positions. Alter shots, block shots, they will be ready to guard him. I’m sure coach (Rick) Barnes will have some better answers than what I’ve got.”
Aside from Johnson, the Gators have also seen much growth this season from the freshmen in the backcourt. Tre Mann is shooting above 30% in SEC play from 3-point range after hitting just six of 29 attempts in non-conference games, while Scottie Lewis’ improved shot selection has led to an increase in both production and usage.
Ques Glover, meanwhile, has lost some minutes as of late due to no fault of his own — with Lewis and Mann playing at a higher level in SEC play and sophomore Andrew Nembhard still leading the team in minutes this season, there simply hasn’t been a need to play Glover more than 12 minutes a game on average. In addition, White said Glover, a Knoxville native who will make his return home for the first time, is in the midst of developing from a bucket grabber into an all-around point guard — which Glover acknowledged has been made easier by watching Nembhard play.
“(I’m) just learning more each day, watching Andrew to see how he plays the game and reads the defense. Just watching him every day and just trying to learn from our mistakes each day,” Glover said. “It’s been a learning curve, because in high school my team needed me to score more, and here I’m playing with a lot of good players around me, so it’s better to let them get some shots and find them when they’re open.”
With the freshman ball-handler set to play in front of family and friends, the next step in Glover’s progression will be seeing how he responds with his whole world watching.
“Ques is letting it come to him a little bit more. I thought he played a pretty good floor game the other day, moved it a little bit better. Transitioning — he’s always been a guy that in high school and in AAU, he scored a lot, and not that we don’t want him to score but he’s learning how to be a true point guard and it’s a process,” White said. “But he’s a better player than he was a couple of months ago, and he’s a talented guy, a great young man, heading home to Knoxville. You know for him, he can’t be emotional. He’s gotta — it’ll be nice to see all his people I’m sure, but he’s gotta play with poise and maturity on the road.”
Keyontae Johnson;F;6-5;231;So.;14.3 ppg;7.2 rpg
Kerry Blackshear Jr.;F;6-10;241;Gr.;13.1 ppg;7.5 rpg
Andrew Nembhard;G;6-5;193;So.;11.8 ppg;3.1 apg
Noah Locke;G;6-3;207;So.;10.1 ppg;2.5 rpg
Scottie Lewis;G;6-5;185;Fr.;8.2 ppg;3.9 rpg
John Fulkerson;F;6-9;212;RJr.;12.8 ppg;6.0 rpg
Josiah-Jordan James;F;6-6;208;Fr.;7.0 ppg;5.5 rpg
Jordan Bowden;G;6-5;183;Sr.;13.8 ppg;4.0 rpg
Santiago Vescovi;G;6-3;188;Fr.;11.0 ppg;3.4 rpg
Yves Pons;G;6-6;215;Jr.;11.0 ppg;5.4 rpg
Notes: Keyontae Johnson’s 25-point, 11-rebound, 5-assist night in the win vs. LSU was UF’s first 25/10/5 stat line since 2009 (Nick Calathes vs. Arkansas) and only the third since 1996 (Matt Walsh, 2002 vs. Miami) … Yves Pons comes into the game with 68 blocks and is now just six blocks away from breaking UT’s single season blocks record with three regular-season games left to play. Jordan Bowden is 8th all-time in Volunteers program history in 3-pointers with 182. He needs just two 3-pointers to pass Admiral Schofield for 7th all-time.