MANHATTAN — Keyontae Johnson was seemingly everywhere after Kansas State eliminated Florida, 64-50, Saturday night at Bramlage Coliseum.
He first shook hands with his former Florida teammates and shared a hug with the Gators’ athletic coach. He then celebrated with K-State fans in the stands before heading to the tunnel to say hello to friends and family.
A series of selfies with the same former teammates follow.
“Today was amazing, especially today looking like my old teammates,” said Johnson, who spent four years in Florida — the last two sitting out with heart problems — before moving to K-State in August. “It was fun playing against them. It was like training, joking throughout the game, but still being competitive.
“I feel like it’s been a great experience, and I’m just glad that the Big 12 conference had this SEC game going and we got to play Florida, so I really appreciate that.”
Moreover:Three takeaways from Kansas State’s 64-50 basketball win over Florida
It didn’t hurt that K-State No. 5 won the game – the 10th and final installment of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge series – and that Johnson had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Most importantly, he also provided shutout for the Wildcats’ 6-foot-6 senior forward.
“I knew we were playing them when I got busy here, and that was the first thing the coaches told me,” Johnson, the 2020-21 preseason player of the year, said before collapsing on the court on the 12th December 2020, at Florida State, just four games into his junior year. “So I was looking forward to it, just seeing the strength coach, (Dave ‘Duke’ Werner).
“She was one of the main people who saved my life on the pitch. So just seeing him on the bench and talking to him after the game helped brighten my day.”
Werner was one of the first to come to Johnson’s aid on the field during the 2020 game in Tallahassee. He also helped pave the way when Johnson moved to K-State.
Moreover:Keyontae Johnson less concerned about former team than about getting Kansas State back on track
“He was the Florida coach who took care of Keyontae,” said K-State coach Jerome Tang, who also gave Werner a hug after the game. “He helped us in the recruiting process by giving us information and just helping us as we were helping Keyontae back.
“And Duke is just a great guy. Keyontae loves him, and I just wanted to give him a hug and thank him.”
Johnson didn’t have his best offensive game against Florida, hitting just 5-of-16 shots and even missing a wind dunk on the run, but he was part of a stifling K-State defensive effort that limited the Gators 31% shooting and his 11 rebounds built a 49-36 lead on the boards for the Wildcats.
But the high point for Johnson was sharing some precious moments and reminiscing after the game.
“It just shows how much respect they have for me. Love too,” Johnson said of his former teammates. “They know I’m back in the game, that I love the game of basketball.”
Moreover:Jerome Tang sees Kansas State basketball glass half full despite loss to Iowa State
The entire K-State team appreciated what Johnson was going through.
“It was really cool as a fan,” Tang said. “I wanted to see him have a good game. I wanted him to win.
“I think our team wanted him to win. We knew it was important to him, even if he didn’t make a big deal out of it.”
When the final horn blew and the Wildcats walked away with a convincing victory – and an 18-3 record – no one was happier than Johnson.
“I know the other team is leaving right after the game, so I just tried to get a picture with them,” Johnson said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime memory and you’ll never get that feeling or that moment back.
“So I was just trying to embrace the moment (and) show my love.”
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett Network. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @arnegreen.