Kerry Blackshear Jr. had only played for about three-and-a-half minutes in the first half of Tuesday’s game before he was pulled due to foul trouble.
After flailing his arms and hitting an opposing player with his elbow 90 seconds into the second half, referees decided he wouldn’t play a minute more.
Blackshear Jr.’s ejection was the most notable rough spot in a game where UF staved off a late-stage comeback from the St. Joseph’s Hawks and edged out a 70-62 victory in Charleston, South Carolina. It was its second win over the Hawks since it faced them in the 2015 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
A large topic of concern for Florida lately has been its field goal percentage. But on Thursday, it saw improvements from the field.
In the first half, the Gators ended 47.1 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc. Florida’s three-point percentage dwarfed St. Joseph’s, as the Hawks only managed to hit 7.1 percent of their three-point shots in the first half.
One particular improvement for UF came in the play of guard Noah Locke, who, after struggling from the three-point line this season, went 3 for 5 from three in the first half. Locke also netted an assist and three rebounds in the first half.
Despite Florida leading after the opening half by 16 points, St. Joseph’s out-rebounded UF by one (24-23) and only committed two more turnovers (6-4). The Hawks were largely outscored, though: Their leading scorer in the first half, Ryan Daly, had eight points (and would end the game with 25), while sophomores Keyontae Johnson and Andrew Nembhard both had 12 for UF.
Florida found that lead dwindling in the second with a series of errors.
After Blackshear Jr.’s ejection, UF’s shot percentage from the field dropped to 38 percent across the second half, and the Gators failed to hit a single trey in four attempts. The Hawks came within striking distance numerous times during the closing minutes of the game, and with 56 seconds left, that 16-point lead Florida held at the end of the first half down to two.
But after a series of free throws, UF held on, and it would escape the first round of the Charleston Classic with a win.
A large part of that victory was Johnson’s doing, who posted a double-double with a career-high 22 points and 12 rebounds. It was the fifth double-double of Johnson’s career. Johnson was one of three Gators to score in double-digits on Thursday, along with Nembhard (16) and Locke (13).
UF will face off against the Miami Hurricanes (4-1) on Friday in the second round of the tournament.
Follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells. Contact him at [email protected]