MANHATTAN, Kan. — Keyontae Johnson gathered with a few of his old Florida teammates after leading No. 5 Kansas State to a 64-50 win over the Gators on Saturday night, the group smiling for some cameras for a picture he’ll no doubt cherish.
Not only because of what Johnson had been through but how the Wildcats had performed.
Johnson had 13 points and 11 rebounds in a sentimental matchup with the Gators, while Markquis Nowell flirted with the first triple-double in Kanas State history, helping the Wildcats to a dominant 64-50 victory in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
Johnson struggled mightily from the field, going just 5 of 16 and even getting stuffed by the front of the rim during a windmill dunk on a second-half fast break. But it was nevertheless a special night for the senior forward, who collapsed on the Gators’ sideline during a game against Florida State just over two years ago.
Johnson spent 10 days in the hospital and never played another meaningful minute for Florida, whose medical staff would not clear him. He wound up at Kansas State, where doctors gave his heart the green light, and he has emerged as the Big 12′s third-leading scorer and rebounder while helping the Wildcats to their highest ranking in more than a decade.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime memory. You’ll never get that moment back,” he said. “Just trying to embrace that moment.”
Wildcats coach Jerome Tang spoke to Johnson throughout the week about what was undoubtedly an emotional night.
“It was really cool. As a fan, I wanted to see him have a good game. I wanted him to get the win. I think the team wanted him to get the win,” Tang said. “We knew it was important to him, even though he didn’t make a big deal of it.”
Nowell finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and Nae’Qwan Tomlin also had 11 points. The Wildcats improved to 18-3 to match the 1972-73 team for the best start through 21 games in school history.
“I was aware the second half,” Nowell said of the triple-double. “I tried to get it but the cards didn’t allow it to happen.”
Colin Castleton scored 13 points for the Gators (12-9). Myreon Jones and Will Richard had 11 apiece.
“I thought we got some looks. I thought we should have shot the ball a little better than we did,” first-year Gators coach Todd Golden said. “It’s been a little bit of an Achilles heel for us on the road.”
Most of the Wildcats’ offense against the Gators flowed through the 5-foot-8 Nowell, who had eight points, eight assists and six boards by the break. By that point, Kansas State had built a commanding 37-16 advantage.
The Gators, meanwhile, had no offense whatsoever.
They missed five of their first six shots and were 6 of 29 from the field at halftime. In fact, Florida shot it so poorly that Alex Fudge wedged a free throw between the rim and backboard, and that came one possession after the Gators’ Kowacie Reeves clanked an open dunk off the back of the iron.
Florida managed to regroup, scoring the first 10 points of the second half, before Nowell answered with a jump shot and Johnson added a bucket and a couple of free throws to halt the Gators’ momentum.
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The Wildcats stretched the lead back over 20 with about 5 1/2 minutes to go before coasting to the finish.
“Listen, I like competing, man, and an opportunity to go up against a really good team like Kansas State on the road was a really good challenge for us,” Golden said. “It was a good opportunity for us.”
By DAVE SKRETTA, Associated Press