WHAT HAPPENED: Grad-transfer forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. hit two free throws with 7.5 seconds left to give his team a two-possession lead and allow the Gators survived a furious second-half comeback by the 18th-ranked Musketeers to win the championship game of the Charleston Classic Sunday night at TD Arena. Sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds to garner tournament MVP honors. Sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard had 15 points, four assists and hit a trio of 3-pointers. Blackshear, who won this tournament while playing at Virginia Tech a year ago, had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the young season. Sophomore shooting guard Noah Locke pitched in 13 points and also had three treys. Their collective performances offset the game-high 24 points from Musketeers guard Paul Scruggs and a couple clutch late-game 3s by backup guard Quentin Goodin that had the rowdy crowd to its feet for the final minutes. Xavier led by two points, 21-9, when Florida took off on a run of 12-2, with Blackshear accounting for seven and Nembhard the other five, including a 3-ball that pushed the Gators up by eight. When halftime came, the margin was 10, at 39-29, and Florida had shot 64 percent against a Xavier defense that came into the game allowing opponents just 35.9 percent shooting on the season. The second half began with a barrage of 3s, with the Gators bombing in three and the Musketeers two. When Johnson made a runner from the baseline, the Gators had a 17-point lead, with 16 minutes to go. Xavier cut the margin six, at 56-50 with 10 minutes to go, but Johnson answered with an old-time 3-point play and freshman backup point guard Ques Glover hit a driving layup to push the lead back to 11. UF was up eight with just over two minutes when Goodin dropped his two 3s, the second coming with 1:05 left to make the score 68-65. After a Florida turnover, the Gators defense forced a long and contested 3 that was rebounded by Blackshear, who hit both free throws at the other end to ice the game.
Sophomore forward Keyontae Johnson knifes through the Xavier defense for a reverse layup during Sunday night's Charleston Classic championship game.
WHAT IT MEANS: In the week since the disappointing defeat at Connecticut, the Gators have three wins over Saint Joseph's, Miami and the now a team that began the day unbeaten and ranked in the Associated Press Top 20. This young Florida team is far from a finished product, but is showing signs of figuring things out after appearing lost at times on offense through the first four games of the season. The win gave UF its first holiday tournament title since beating No. 2 Michigan State and Rutgers in the Legends Classic at Atlantic City, N.J., in 2009.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Johnson was sensational during the tournament, averaging 16.3 points and 8.0 rebounds while hitting 20 of his 33 shots (61 percent). He was a worthy recipient of the award.
STAGGERING STATISTIC: UF did not score a field goal over the final 6:22 -- and also turned the ball over five times down that stretch -- but those four of six free throws were enough. Barely.
UP NEXT: Florida (5-2) is back at home Friday night, on the eve of the UF-Florida State football game, to take on Marshall (2-3), with a late 9 p.m. tipoff. The Thundering Herd will have had eight days off since their last game, a 91-63 beating of Howard, the team's second win since defeating Robert Morris in the season opener. The Herd had three losses in between, falling at home to Toledo and College of Charleston, as well as a road game at Notre Dame, with each loss coming by at least 10 points.