TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida men's basketball coach Mike White declined to do any postgame media interviews Saturday afternoon. He wanted to get to the hospital to be near Keyontae Johnson's side as quickly as possible.
No one could blame him.
Johnson, the Southeastern Conference's preseason player of the year, collapsed coming out of a timeout against rival Florida State and needed emergency medical attention. Johnson was taken off the floor on a stretcher and rushed to Tallahassee Memorial for evaluation. The team said he was in critical but stable condition and later said he would remain in the hospital overnight.
Johnson's parents were flying in from Virginia to be with their son.
"I know you're fighting bro," teammate Tre Mann wrote on Twitter after the game ended. "God got you."
Johnson had just dunked in transition before he crumpled to the floor as the team broke its huddle. Several Florida players were in tears, and a couple of them buried their faces in towels as White gathered the Gators in prayer.
Officials gave the teams time to regroup, and play resumed a few minutes later. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said administrators twice gave the Gators the option of stopping or continuing the game — at that time and again at halftime — and said they ultimately decided to play. White let his players make the call.
Florida wasn't the same afterward, getting outscored 80-60 after Johnson's sudden and disconcerting exit. The 20th-ranked Seminoles won 83-71, extending their winning streak in the series to seven games and their winning streak at home to 26.
"Please keep praying for Keyontae and his family," White posted on Twitter. "We all love him."
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl gathered his team together after practice Saturday, told them about Johnson's situation and asked them to join an assistant in prayer. The team posted a video of it on social media.
Johnson, a 6-foot-5 junior from Norfolk, Virginia, averaged a team-high 14 points last season to go along with 7.1 rebounds, and he also led the Gators with 38 steals. He scored five points in four minutes Saturday.
"Those types of things can affect you in some adverse ways," Hamilton said. "We're just all hopeful and praying that he's OK. If it affected our players in an emotional way, I can imagine what the situation was with his teammates."
Like many of his Florida teammates, Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 this past summer. Although the cause of Johnson's ailment was not immediately known, the coronavirus can lead to myocarditis, a viral infection of the heart muscle. At its most severe, myocarditis can lead to sudden cardiac arrest and has been a documented cause of death for young, otherwise healthy athletes.
The SEC mandates strict protocols, including rigorous heart testing, before players can be cleared to return to play after positive COVID-19 tests.
Highly touted freshman Scottie Barnes scored 17 points for the Seminoles as the Atlantic Coast Conference's 2020 regular-season champions remained undefeated through three games and handed Florida its first loss in four to start this season.
Barnes, the top-rated recruit of Hamilton's tenure in Tallahassee, had two thunderous dunks and was 7-of-10 shooting. It was a breakout game for the 6-foot-9, 227-poind point guard many expect to be an NBA lottery pick.
"There's no doubt that he showed potential," Hamilton said. "He's showing that he has the ability that we always knew he had. He made pretty good decisions with the ball and he did some athletic things. But as a team we have to get a little better all on the same page so that we could all be a little bit better in sync than we were."
Florida's Scottie Lewis, who was clearly affected by Johnson's ordeal, tied a career high with 19 points. Tre Mann added 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Gators.