CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.
Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.
“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”
The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.
“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.
The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.
Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.
But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.
St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.
Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.
The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.
Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.
Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.
St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.
Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.
Florida: The Gators were No. 6 in the preseason rankings, but have since fallen out with losses to Florida State and UConn. They’re hoping a strong showing in Charleston will move them back in the right direction.
The Gators have already lost to Florida State. They get the chance to redeem themselves against another major rival in Miami. Florida last played the Hurricanes in November 2016, winning 65-56. Florida has won five of the past eight basketball meetings between the schools.
Florida plays Miami in the Charleston Classic semifinals on Friday.
St. Joseph’s faces Missouri State Friday.
For more AP college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25