GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)Keyontae Johnson spent a good chunk of his career night at the free throw line. It was the best chance undermanned Arkansas had at stopping the 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore.
Johnson scored a career-high 24 points thanks mostly to making 15 of 17 from the charity stripe as Florida beat the Razorbacks 73-59 on Tuesday night to extend their dominance in the series.
”I thought he just dominated the basketball game,” said Arkansas coach Eric Musselman. ”We had nobody to guard him. The guy takes seven field goals and has 24 points.”
Johnson added 10 rebounds for his third double-double in Florida’s last four games. It was his sixth double-double of the season and 10th of his career.
”The ball happens to be coming my way,” Johnson said.
Andrew Nembhard chipped 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists for Florida, which won for the 11th time in 12 games against the Razorbacks. The Gators (17-9, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) also extended their winning streak against Arkansas in Gainesville to 14. The Hogs (16-10, 4-9) haven’t won in the O’Connell Center since Feb. 28, 1995.
Noah Locke hit three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points for Florida. Kerry Blackshear Jr. picked up four fouls – all on the offensive end – in his first 9 minutes of action. He finished with two points, five rebounds and six turnovers.
Arkansas played its fifth consecutive game without preseason All-SEC selection Isaiah Joe, who had arthroscopic debridement surgery on his right knee two weeks ago. Joe practiced this week and warmed up with the team before the game.
”He’s looking great,” Musselman said. ”I never say anything to an injured player. He lets me know when he’s ready to play. I’m not asking. It’s up to the individual player, up to the trainer and doctor.”
The Razorbacks trailed by 19 points in the opening half, but took advantage of Florida’s foul trouble to whittle that down to two for several possessions after the break. The Gators turned to Nembhard and Johnson to rebuild a double-digit lead down the stretch.
Nembhard made two free throws after getting fouled on a drive and later added consecutive left-handed layups. Johnson hit four from the charity stripe and sank a floater in the lane. They were all of Florida’s offense in a 12-2 spurt that made it a 12-point game.
”I thought that was the turning point,” Florida coach Mike White said.
Mason Jones led Arkansas with 21 points despite constant double teams. Adrio Bailey added 16 as the Razorbacks lost their fifth consecutive game in league play.
Early on, Florida looked like it would have no problem beating Arkansas again. The Gators made 10 of their first 15 shots, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range, and led 30-11.
Musselman called two timeouts, both after Locke hit 3s, in hopes of squashing Florida’s momentum. The second one seemed to work.
Arkansas closed the opening 20 minutes with a 15-3 run that sliced into the 19-point lead. It surely helped that the Gators played 18 minutes without Blackshear and nearly 10 without Johnson. Both picked up a pair of fouls early.
Johnson’s return in the second half changed everything.
Locke was called for a technical foul early in the second half that seemed to energize the Gators. Johnson and Locke pushed Bailey out of Florida’s huddle, and Bailey flopped to the ground. Initially the foul was called on Johnson but changed to Locke after officials reviewed the play.
”I feel like it was disrespectful,” Johnson said. ”It was like somebody trying to come in your home. I was just trying to protect our house and get him out.”
Arkansas: The Razorbacks won’t be the same until Joe returns. He ranks second on the team in scoring, averaging 16 points a game, and is one of the team’s best 3-point shooters and perimeter defenders.
Florida: The Gators have won five of six since looking like their NCAA Tournament hopes were on life support. How they finish down the stretch will determine if they make it the big dance for the fourth consecutive year.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks play three of their next four at home, beginning Saturday when they host Missouri.
Florida: The Gators begin a daunting closing, regular-seasons stretch at No. 10 Kentucky on Saturday. They also face LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky again before the conference tournament.
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