Florida beats Xavier to win 2019 Charleston Classic

Florida beats Xavier to win 2019 Charleston Classic
Florida celebrates after beating Xavier on Sunday in the finals of the Charleston Classic (Source: Charleston Classic Twitter)

Florida 70, Xavier 65

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Florida’s finally happy to gain attention for who it beat than the teams it’s lost to this season.

Keyontae Johnson and Andrew Nembhard had 15 points each and Florida held off No. 18 Xavier 70-65 in the Charleston Classic championship Sunday night.

"It's amazing," Gators coach Mike White said, "to think where we were a week ago and where we are now."

Last week, Florida was still in the national rankings and suffering its second loss in four games at UConn -- it lost to Florida State on Nov. 10 -- that led to questions about the team's apparent free fall from preseason expectations where it started No. 6 in the country.

Johnson, named the tournament MVP, said the players didn't get down or despondent about the defeats, just focused on turning things around.

"We just came to practice, worked on our roles and getting better from then until now," he said.

That was apparent in three games here. The Gators needed to hold off a late rally by Saint Joseph's for a 66-62 victory Thursday in the tournament opener before a second-half surge led to a 20-point win over state rival Miami to send them to the title game.

Florida led by 10 points by halftime and stretched it to 17 points in a run where Nembhard had back-to-back 3s and Noah Locke followed with another from beyond the arc.

But just as Xavier did against UConn for a double-overtime victory Friday night, the Musketeers caught fire. They clawed within 68-65 on Quentin Goodin's 3-pointer with 1:08 left and had a shot to tie on Paul Scruggs' clean look from three with 13 seconds to go. But the ball bounced twice on the rim and fell off where Kerry Blackshear Jr. grabbed it for the Gators, got fouled and made both free throws for the final margin.

"I'm glad that buzzer sounded," White said. "I don't know if we would've survived the OT."

Florida players jumped around when the game ended and the large group of fans chanted and did the Gator chomp, glad to finally have something to cheer about.

Xavier struggled to make the outside shots it had hit consistently this season, going just 5 of 16 from beyond the arc against the Gators. And as the Musketeers' shots kept missing, Florida kept swarming as it forced 16 turnovers, Xavier's second-highest number of miscues in a game this fall.

Blackshear finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double of the tournament. Locke

For Blackshear, the Virginia Tech grad transfer, it was the second straight season he celebrated a tournament title in Charleston after the Hokies captured the event last in 2018.

Scruggs led all scorers with 24 points while Tyrique Jones had 13.

Xavier coach Travis Steele acknowledged the team's effort at coming back. He was more focused on the first 25 minutes where his normally steady team struggled to catch up to Florida's players on defense.

"That's just inexcusable. That's not who we are," he said. "We can't be that way moving forward."

BIG PICTURE

Florida: The Gators look ready to re-enter the national college basketball conversation. They used a dominant second half in Friday's semifinal to defeat state rival Miami 78-58 and proved their mettle against Xavier.

Xavier: The Musketeers and deep, gritty and talented. Their double-overtime win against UConn here Friday night showed all the characteristics that should carry it a long way in the Big East and beyond.

FRANK TALK

Mike White said he never discussed Florida's high expectations with his players during the offseason. He decided Tuesday to talk about what had gone wrong early and how things needed to improve. Florida's players took it to heart in three games in Charleston, White said.

XAVIER'S ESCAPES

The Musketeers have made a habit of getting out of tight jams this season. They needed overtime to defeat Missouri before hold off Missouri State by three points. It took double OT for a 75-74 win over UConn that got them to the championship game. Florida's Nembhard stayed up watching the whole contest, which ended near 1 a.m. "I was more nervous there and was about this," he said, smiling.

UP NEXT

Florida: Hosts Marshall on Friday night.

Xavier: Hosts Lipscomb on Saturday.

UConn 80, Miami 55

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- UConn needed a pick-me-up after its double overtime loss to No. 18 Xavier on Friday night, perhaps no one more than junior point guard Alterique Gilbert.

Huskies coach Danny Hurley said the whole team was down Saturday and especially Gilbert, the target of social media after he lost control of his dribble on UConn's final chance against the Musketeers. So no one was happier than Hurley with Gilbert's steady, solid play in an 80-55 win over Miami on Sunday as the Huskies captured third place at the Charleston Classic.

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"I just couldn't be prouder of how he led this team," Hurley said.

Josh Carlton had 16 points while freshman James Bouknight continued to make himself indispensable to the Huskies with 13 points. Christian Vital had 14 points while Brendan Adams had 13. Gilbert led UConn with seven assists and directed his teammates throughout.

At one point, Gilbert threw a perfect pass to Akok Akok as he soared high for an alley-oop finish. Hurley was so thrilled with Gilbert he rushed out to bear hug him on the next time out. At the end with 90 seconds and UConn up big, Hurley called time out so Gilbert could hear the cheers of UConn fans as he came off the court.

"After that loss, it was Alterique that helped us bounce back," Carlton said.

The Huskies capped a week that started last Sunday with a win over then-15th-ranked Florida and continued here with two more wins and that oh-so-close defeat to Xavier.

"I don't think anyone's had a week like us in college basketball" this season, Hurley said.

The Huskies might have a few more surprises ahead after handily topping the Hurricanes (4-3) in the first meeting between the former Big East Conference rivals in 11 years.

The Huskies' youth was on full display, led by Bouknight, the highly regarded freshman who made his debut this week in Charleston after missing his team's first three games with legal problems.

Bouknight, the 6-foot-4 guard from Brooklyn, New York, led UConn with 19 points against Xavier and continued his solid play in this one. He made six of seven field goals and added three rebounds, two assists and a steal -- all off the bench.

Another freshman, 6-9 Akok, had seven boards and six of his team's nine blocked shots.

Miami dropped its second straight after an opening win Thursday against Missouri State. The Hurricanes fell to state rival Florida on Friday.

Dejan Vasiljevic led Miami with 11 points.

"I don't think it's a secret that we're not there" yet defensively, Miami associate head coach Chris Caputo said.

BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes struggled in the second half of their past two losses. They were outscored 33-13 over the final 15 minutes of the Florida defeat and 62-35 the last 25 minutes against UConn.

UConn: The Huskies are returning to the Big East next season and look ready to make an immediate impact with the young talent they're developing. Bouknight, Akok, Brendan Adams, who also had 13 points off the bench, and Jalen Gaffney are underclassmen who are improving. Christian Vital had 14 points for UConn.

LARRANAGA PLAYING HURT

Miami coach Jim Larranaga dealt with a pulled muscle this week that limited his mobility, including on the bench where he would sit while Caputo filled the role of walking the sidelines, talking to players and officials.

CHANGE OF FORTUNE

The arena interview room has large glass windows to the outside where fans can see coaches and players talking to media. Several pounded the glass and cheered as Hurley began speaking. It wasn't that way Friday night after Xavier, Hurley joked, "I was pretty lonely."

UP NEXT

Miami is off next week and plays at Illinois on Dec. 2.

UConn returns home to play Maine on Dec. 1.

Buffalo 75, Missouri St. 74

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Antwain Johnson hit a pair of foul shots with 5.7 seconds left to lift Buffalo to a 75-74 win Sunday against Missouri State to take fifth place at the Charleston Classic.

Davonta Jordan led the Bulls (4-2) with 25 points. Buffalo had a 13-point lead late in the first half and were still ahead 56-47 with nine minutes left, but had to hold off Missouri State (3-4) down the stretch. The lead changed hands eight times in the final four minutes.

Gaige Prim's basket with 46 seconds left gave Missouri State its last lead at 74-73. After the Bears' Keandre Cook missed a foul shot with 12 seconds to go, Johnson drove toward the basket and was fouled. He made both to give Buffalo two wins in three tournament games.

Prim led Missouri State with 21 points.

Towson 76, St. Josephs 64

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Juwan Gray had 14 points and Allen Betrand 13 as Towson blew nearly all of double-digit lead before rallying back to put away Saint Joseph's 76-64 to win seventh place at the Charleston Classic on Sunday.

The Tigers (3-4) had built an 18-point lead in the opening half and were still ahead 49-35 with less than 15 minutes to play. But the Hawks (2-5) scored 12 straight points to cut Towson's lead to 49-47 with 11:18 to play. That's when the Tigers pulled off a 17-2 surge to put the game away. Towson stretched the lead to 20 points in the final minutes.

Jakigh Dottin and Brian Fobbs had 12 points each for the Tigers, who salvaged a final victory here after tournament losses to No. 18 Xavier and Buffalo.

Ryan Daly had 13 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hawks, who have lost four straight games including all three in the eight-team event.