When players talk about being part of a brotherhood, they always mean the bond developed on a team. For two players in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the brotherly affection transcends team.
Kentucky wing Keldon Johnson and Florida forward Keyontae Johnson were teammates on an AAU team and at high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy.
“He’s like a brother,” Keyontae said of Keldon here Thursday. “Like we basically grew up together.”
Keldon said much the same of Keyontae after Kentucky’s victory over Alabama Friday night.
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“We’re real tight,” the UK player said. “He is like my brother.”
Incidentally, the two are not related.
The two talk or text each other on a regular basis. It’s not unusual for them to update each other after games, they said.
As Florida warmed up for its quarterfinal game against LSU Friday, Keldon tried to encourage Keyontae.
“He was like, ‘Go off today,’” Keyontae said. “Good luck and everything.”
Keyontae went off. He posted a double-double in Florida’s 76-73 victory, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He also made four steals.
That followed 20 points and 12 rebounds in a victory over Arkansas on Thursday.
Keldon struggled in UK’s victory over Alabama. He made only one of seven shots and scored four points. He cited foul trouble (four fouls in 22 minutes) as a factor.
Florida Coach Mike White said Keyontae has matured during this freshman season.
“He was never used to not getting a lot of opportunity, and so he fought through that stage a lot of freshmen have to fight through,” White said.
Florida being short-handed in the front court meant Keyontae was moved to power forward. White said Keyontae benefits from having a speed and quickness advantage over bigger opponents.
Besides rooting for each other, Keldon and Keyontae hope their teams advance to Sunday’s championship game.
Lob to Nick
The most dramatic play in Kentucky’s victory over Alabama may have been the lob EJ Montgomery tossed that Nick Richards dunked. Montgomery rebounded near the top of the key. He then drove and tossed the lob rather than shoot.
It’s a play the two have practiced repeatedly.
“I saw him,” Montgomery said. “So I drove it so I could get a better angle to throw it to him.”
Late in the game, Montgomery appeared to tip in a put-back. But a call of basket interference nullified the score.
UK fans booed, bringing to mind the tip-in on an uncalled basketball interference that allowed LSU to beat Kentucky in the regular season.
Montgomery was asked if Kavell Bigby-Williams’ tip-in came to mind.
“Didn’t think of it,” he said. “But I’m thinking of it now that you say it.”
After freshman Andrew Nembhard made a three-pointer to put Florida ahead 76-73, LSU had one second to tie it. During the ensuing timeout, UK fans of a certain age may have thought of the Christian Laettner game. UK did not contest an inbounds pass, which Laettner caught then made the winning shot in the 1992 East Region final.
Florida center Kevarrius Hayes guarded the LSU player attempting to inbounds the ball. Florida then contested the catch. LSU did not get off a shot.
“I’ve made the mistake of not doing it in the past,” Florida Coach Mike White said of guarding the player attempting the inbounds pass. “And since then, I’ve done it.”
That mistake happened on Jan. 5. South Carolina beat Florida 71-69 when Chris Silva took a long uncontested inbounds pass and laid in the winning shot at the buzzer.
Auburn set a single-season SEC record for three-point baskets in its 73-64 quarterfinal victory over South Carolina. The Tigers made 13 three-pointers to raise their season total to 368. That broke the record of 361 set by Arkansas in 1994-95.
“It means a lot,” said shooting guard Bryce Brown, who made a team-high five. Then he added, “We don’t come out here and just jack up shots.”
Maybe more startling, 34 of Auburn’s 47 shots were from beyond the three-point line. That translated to 72.3 percent.
Even for Auburn, which came into the game having taken 48.2 percent of its shots from three-point range, that was a lot.
When told more than 70 percent of Auburn’s shots were threes, Brown smiled. “That’s us,” he said. “Coach (Bruce Pearl) says be who you are.”