TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton told assistants and administrators that Florida could decide whether to continue after standout forward Keyontae Johnson collapsed and was rushed to a nearby hospital.
Coach Mike White let his players make the call — not once, but twice. With tears in their eyes and their teammate’s condition uncertain, the Gators wanted to play.
They were obviously and understandably distracted the rest of the way.
Highly touted freshman Scottie Barnes scored 17 points and No. 20 Florida State extended its dominance against the Gators with an 83-71 victory Saturday that came after Florida suddenly lost its best player.
Johnson, the SEC’s preseason player of the year, was taken off the floor on a stretcher in the opening minutes and transported to Tallahassee Memorial for evaluation. Florida officials said he was in critical but stable condition and would remain there overnight.
White canceled postgame interviews to join Johnson at the hospital as his players boarded a bus for the two-hour trip back to Gainesville. Johnson’s parents were flying in from Virginia to be with their son.
“Please keep praying for @Keyontae and his family,” White posted on Twitter. “We all love him.”
Whether the game should have resumed surely will be debated. White let his players chose both times — moments after Johnson left the court and then again at halftime.
“Whatever they thought was in the best interest of their team, then I would accept it,” Hamilton said. “My administration asked me and I told them we would be okay with whatever they decided. It was my understanding that they wanted to play.”
Johnson, a junior from Norfolk, Va., had just dunked in transition a couple of minutes before he crumpled to the hardwood as the team broke its huddle. The Gators were emotional wrecks as they watch the situation unfold, and a couple of them buried their faces in towels as White gathered his team in prayer.
Several Seminoles were in tears as well and took a knee to do the same.
“Those types of things can affect you in some adverse ways,” Hamilton said. “We’re just all hopeful and praying that he’s OK. If it affected our players in an emotional way, I can imagine what the situation was with his teammates.”
Officials gave both teams extra time to regroup before restarting. The Gators weren’t the same afterward.
Florida (3-1) was ahead 11-3 following Johnson’s dunk. The Seminoles (3-0) scored the next seven points and pulled away from there. They outscored the Gators 42-24 in the first half after Johnson was stricken.
The Seminoles led by as many as 18 in the second half. They ended up extending their winning streak against Florida to seven games, tying the longest by either team in the series. They also stretched their winning streak against non-conference opponents at home to 41 and won their 26th straight at home.
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Barnes, Anthony Polite and M.J. Walker made this one look easy most of the day. Barnes, the top-rated recruit of Hamilton’s tenure in Tallahassee, had two thunderous dunks and was 7-of-10 shooting. It was a breakout game for the 6-foot-9 point guard many expect to be an NBA lottery pick.
“There’s no doubt that he showed potential,” Hamilton said. “He’s showing that he has the ability that we always knew he had. He made pretty good decisions with the ball and he did some athletic things. But as a team we have to get a little better all on the same page so that we could all be a little bit better in sync than we were.”
Polite hit three 3-pointers and finished with 14 points. Walker was perfect from the free-throw line, draining all 12 attempts, and ended up with 17 points.
Florida’s Scottie Lewis, who was clearly affected by Johnson’s ordeal, tied a career high with 19 points. Tre Mann added 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
The Gators got little from anyone else. Johnson surely would have been a factor. He averaged a team-high 14 points last season to go along with 7.1 rebounds. He also led the Gators with 38 steals. He had five points in four minutes Saturday.
Like many of his teammates, Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 during the summer. The coronavirus can lead to myocarditis, a viral infection of the heart muscle, and it is common for athletes. At its most severe, myocarditis can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and has been a documented cause of death for young, otherwise healthy athletes.
The SEC mandates strict protocols, including rigorous heart testing, before players can be cleared to return to play following positive COVID tests.