Florida basketball sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson was the belle of the ball Sunday as the Gators put themselves back in the national spotlight.
For all my grumbling and growling, perhaps I was a little premature about my outlook on Florida basketball.
After all, we can’t get bogged down by a few silly losses to Florida State and UConn, can we?
Well, the Gators have thrust themselves back in the national collegiate basketball spotlight after Sunday’s 70-65 win over No. 18 Xavier in the championship of the Charleston Classic.
Led by sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson’s 15 points, Florida basketball took charge early and never really looked back.
Virginia Tech graduate transfer forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. celebrated his second straight title in Charleston as the Hokies won the same tournament a season ago.
Blackshear ended Sunday night’s game with 14 points and 10 rebounds — including pushing Florida’s lead to five points with a pair of free throws with seconds to go in the game.
But, the Gators did have their faults.
After closing out the first half in dominant fashion and a 10-point lead, Florida basketball extended that even farther — to as many as 17 points early in the second half.
Florida shot 64% from the field in the first half, including 66.7% from 3-point range.
But, Xavier started to close the gap.
A 3-pointer from Quentin Goodin with 1 minute, 8 seconds to play, brought the Musketeers to within 3, 68-65. After a Gator miss, Paul Scruggs had a chance to tie the game, but his 3-pointer bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Blackshear, who was promptly fouled and connected both to seal the Gators’ win.
Florida basketball did do the same things they did in their blowout win over Miami in the semifinals — took care of the ball and trimmed down silly shots.
The Gators forced 18 turnovers while committing just 16 of their own. Florida capitalized by scoring 22 points off Xavier’s turnovers.
For the game, Florida basketball shot 54.2% from the field — including 38.9% from 3-point range.
Sophomore guard Andrew Nembhard, who had been quiet in the win over Miami, scored 15 points on 3-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Noah Locke also scored in double figures — pouring in 13 points in 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
For his efforts in all three games, Johnson was named the tournament MVP.
Florida will return to action at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29 when they host Marshall at Exactech Arena.