College basketball: Florida Gators take on Florida State Seminoles
Having secured a 13-point win over Elon University in the season-opener Tuesday, the Florida men’s basketball team returns to action at the Exactech Arena at 1 p.m. to host an in-state rival, No. 19-ranked Florida State, in a contest that coach Mike White believes may prove to be challenging from an emotional standpoint for one player: Keyontae Johnson.
Johnson has yet to be medically cleared for a return to basketball activities since he collapsed nearly a year ago in Tallahassee against the Seminoles in Florida’s fourth contest of the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season.
Johnson, last season’s SEC preseason Player of the Year, remains on scholarship, albeit in the role of pseudo-coach. He isn’t expected to take the court for the Gators this season, according to a source familiar with Johnson’s situation, but he remains entwined with the program nonetheless; regardless, Johnson’s head coach suspects Sunday could be difficult for the senior forward.
“Unfortunately for Keyontae, questions keep coming. Whether he’s getting them or we’re getting them, I wish he could avoid being the news a little,” White said. “I don’t know how he feels, but this — probably, I would assume — this weekend could be hard for him.”
Outside of an interview with Florida’s internal media, Johnson hasn’t discussed his current situation, choosing to keep the details private.
And with many people emotionally invested in Johnson’s condition, White is aware the questions will keep coming until he does provide further information, though the Gators are emphasizing a focus on the present as they look to face the ‘Noles once again.
“We’re focused on Sunday’s game between this version of the Gators and this version of the Seminoles. That’s not unlike any other year, but probably even more productive to do that this year,” White said. “What this team has to do is focus on what it has to do for 40 minutes, sticking to the game plan and be the best team it could be.”
In spite of the double-digit defeat of Elon, the Gators didn’t play for a full 40 minutes against the Phoenix. After taking a 54-26 lead just two minutes into the second half, the Gators were outscored 35-20 over the final 18:51 of play, leading senior forward Colin Castleton to criticize how the team played down the stretch with a comfy lead.
The result wasn’t necessarily in doubt, but Florida, while avoiding the emotions that can negatively impact a contest, must take the potential of losing “personally”, said graduate transfer Brandon McKissic.
“Outside of it being Florida-Florida State, this is an opportunity we've all been waiting for — our first big game. Elon showed us what we need to work on, what we need to focus on for this upcoming game, but this game is personal on a lot of different levels,” McKissic said. “Not just because of the Florida-Florida State rivalry, but we don't want to lose. We don't want to lose a game, period. Every game we're taking as if it's personal."
It would be understandable for White, considering his winless record against the Seminoles since arriving at UF, to have some emotions involved, too. But he’s more focused on the “we” rather than “me”— the priority is padding Florida’s resumé for a fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
“I do say this every year and I do mean it, that every single game on the schedule is really, really important. Imagine if we had fallen short against Elon, how big of a game had that been, right? This game is really really big, for different reasons of course, and that next game is going to be really big,” White said. “Some of these games on the schedule we absolutely have to win. Some of these games on your schedule could potentially be game-changing victories for you in terms of March, so this one, this one's big for a few reasons.”
Anthony Duruji F 6-7 220 R-Sr 8.0 ppg 7.0 rpg
Colin Castleton F 6-11 231 Sr 18.0 ppg 5.0 rpg
Tyree Appleby G 6-1 163 Sr 14.0 ppg 5.0 apg
Brandon McKissic G 6-3 185 Gr 4.0 ppg 3.0 rpg
Myreon Jones G 6-3 175 Sr 20.0 ppg 6.0 rpg
Malik Osborne F 6-9 225 RSr. 18.0 ppg 13.0 rpg
RayQuan Evans G 6-4 200 Sr. 4.0 ppg 3.0 rpg
Anthony Polite G 6-6 214 RSr. 17.0 ppg 6.0 rpg
Caleb Mills G 6-5 180 RSo. 14.0 ppg 5.0 rpg
Wyatt Wilkes G 6-8 220 RSr. 4.0 ppg 2.0 rpg
Notes: White said the Gators are dealing with a variety of health issues in the build-up to the game. “We had a couple guys banged up, a couple guys out with the sickness that is going around campus,” White said at the conclusion of Friday’s practice session ...With a win Sunday, Florida State would secure their eighth consecutive over the Gators, marking the longest win streak in 73 meetings between the programs....In UF’s 74-61 win over Elon, Myreon Jones caught fire for 20 points to lead all scorers, including 17 on 4-for-5 shooting from 3-point range in the second half.
Who: No. 19 Florida State (1-0) vs. Florida (1-0)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: O'Connell Center
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM