Florida star Keyontae Johnson returned to the bench Saturday for the first time since his on-court collapse nearly a month ago and proved to be a good luck charm. The Gators defeated LSU 83-79 in his return, improving to 5-1 on the season and to 2-0 in SEC play.
Johnson had a special chair assigned to him on the baseline at Exactech Arena for him to occupy. He donned a Florida Gators jumpsuit and a mask and helped Gators coach Mike White throughout the game, fulfilling his new role as player-coach as he works his way back to full health.
Johnson officially rejoined the team last week just shortly after being discharged from the hospital after his collapse against Florida State. White said that Johnson will have a new role helping with coaching and scouting moving forward this season as he recovers, and indeed he did exactly that Saturday.
The Gators held a comfortable lead late in the game and nearly relinquished it, but Scottie Lewis nailed five free throws in the final 30 seconds to hang on. Lewis scored 17 points in the win, and Colin Castleton had a breakout performance, posting 21 points and six boards just days after dropping 23 points on Vandy.
It’s unclear if Johnson will return to the court again this season but Castleton’s emergence combined with Florida’s balanced attack on both ends makes the Gators a real force to compete in the SEC this season with or without him.