Keyontae Johnson Will Be Depended On Entering Gators’ Tough Stretch

Brandon Carroll

Given the Gators' struggles at times this season, Mike White’s squad has a rough stretch ahead that has significant implications of what this team can accomplish this season. 

Going into the year regraded as one of the most talented rosters in all of college basketball as well as being ranked No. 6 in the nation, the Gators (11-5, 3-1 SEC) quickly found themselves dropping games right out of the gate. 

Starting the year 2-2, the Gators found themselves in a hole that they would need to climb out of quickly. 

Well, here we are in the 17th game of the year, and they are still attempting to climb themselves out of that same hole they dug themselves early on. But, given Florida's upcoming slate of games, they have an excellent chance to prove themselves against formidable opponents. 

Today at 1:30, the Gators face off against the newly one-loss and fourth-ranked Auburn Tigers at home in a huge SEC matchup. For the Gators, the next few games don’t get any easier. After they play Auburn at home, the Gators will travel to LSU to take on the Tigers who are currently undefeated in SEC play, before returning to face off against the number two ranked team in the land, the Baylor Bears. 

To come out victorious in not just one, but any of these games, the Gators will have to look towards one of their most productive players on the season, forward Keyontae Johnson. 

Standing at 6-5, 231 lbs., Johnson brings a bullying presence to the floor for the Gators, outweighing the average NBA forward by nearly seven pounds. The former four-star prospect out of Norfolk, Virginia, brings to the Gators eye pooping athleticism, including a 41.5-inch vertical jump and superb ability to drive the basketball on the offensive side. 

After taking over as a starter midway through the season last year against SEC foe Georgia, the sophomore forward has not looked back. Starting the final 20 games of the 2018-19 season, Johnson cemented himself in Florida Gators record books with his performance on the floor, including becoming the fourth freshman in Gator history to post a double-double in NCAA tournament play. 

This season, the story isn’t much different. Improving in nearly every aspect of his game statistically following the 2018-19 season, Johnson has begun to put up solid numbers on the floor. Seeing the court very frequently - 30.2 minutes per game - Johnson averages 13 points along with nearly seven rebounds per game, both of which rank second on the team to only Kerry Blackshear. 

Possibly one of the best forwards when driving the ball through the lane in the SEC, Johnson can use his bigger frame to muscle around big men inside to draw contact and finish when needed to do so and shows that ability rather frequently. 

The efficiency he has displayed for the Gators this season, at times, will need to continue over this next stretch of games. To pull out a few much-needed upsets at this point in the season, Johnson will have to perform at a high level on both sides of the ball in the Gators' next three matchups. 

This season, in games Florida has come out on top, Johnson has averaged 14.6 points on top of 7.5 rebounds per game, compared to 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game mark in games the Gators have fallen short. 

The common trend throughout the year has been when Johnson plays well, the Gators play well. There is no way around that. Shooting 54% from the floor this season, Johnson gives the Gators a great ability to score the basketball when he takes it to the bucket and can even knock down the three-ball when called upon, shooting 35.1% from behind the arc. 

On Saturday, the Gators floor general and starting point guard Andrew Nembhard will be playing, but doing so in limited capacity due to the flu, causing them to emphasize Johnson to help carry the load down the stretch along with Blackshear. 

Coming off what many are calling his best performance of the season, where he tallied 15 points on 85.7% shooting from the floor along with six rebounds and three assists. Johnson is in prime position to carry on the stellar performance to will the Gators to much-needed rallies in the win columns. 

Johnson has the ability to help the Gators sustain production on the offensive side of the ball, and continue the success he’s seen defensively since arriving in Gainesville last season. 

If he can continue to be productive, they could make a much needed mid-season push to reclaim relevance in the chaotic world that is college basketball this season.