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KD Johnson returns to form with clutch shooting in Auburn’s victory over Florida
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AU MEN’S BASKETBALL

KD Johnson returns to form with clutch shooting in Auburn’s victory over Florida

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Auburn vs Florida

Auburn guard KD Johnson (0) reacts during the game between Auburn and Florida on Jan. 8 in Auburn Arena.

Following an uncharacteristically quiet night against South Carolina last week, Auburn guard KD Johnson had something to say on Saturday.

Johnson shook off a 1-for-4 shooting effort against the Gamecocks by playing a critical role in the Tigers’ 85-73 victory over Florida. Johnson opened the game with a solid showing but was especially effective down the stretch, as he hit five of his last eight attempts and scored the Tigers’ final seven points to end the night with a game-high 23-points.

“We don’t win without KD, period,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said on the postgame radio show. “Nobody does it better than KD Johnson.”

Johnson got into a groove early by hitting two of his first three 3-point attempts, something Johnson said afterward gave him confidence. That first-half effort – which amounted to eight points, tied for the most of any player – was valuable as Auburn built a nine-point lead, but it was nothing compared to what Johnson still had in store.

Johnson subbed back into the game with a little under nine minutes to go and Auburn clinging to a four-point lead. Shortly after missing a layup, the sophomore helped seal the Tigers’ 11th straight win.

Auburn pushed its lead to 65-61 after a Wendell Green Jr. layup, but from there Johnson put Florida on notice.

After a defensive rebound by Jabari Smith, Johnson worked the ball up the court then fired to Smith, who held the ball momentarily at the top of the 3-point arc before passing back to Johnson to his left. Johnson patiently dribbled the ball between his hands and sized up Florida’s Phlandrous Fleming Jr. before pulling up and launching a high-arching shot.

As the ball soared toward the basket, Johnson faded back toward half-court, his hands held tightly to his side in anticipation of a chance to explode. Johnson soon got what he was hoping for, as the ball found its mark and the sophomore unloaded with the Tigers up seven with just under six minutes to go.

“It felt real good. It felt even better about getting a team win,” Johnson said of his performance. “My offense played a little piece into the win, but it did feel good a little bit to get back to my old ways and scrap and be the best I can be on the offensive side.”

After Florida’s Colin Castleton connected on a jumper, Auburn pushed its lead to 10 on two free throws by Smith and a 3-pointer from Green. From there, Johnson put on a show to end the night.

Johnson pushed the lead back to 12 with a layup, and after Green hit a layup Johnson went to the free-throw line with 1:10 to go and drained both attempts. The games was decided but Johnson wasn’t finished, as he hit a layup with 11 seconds remaining, stole the ball back and drew a foul – which led to another successful free throw.

Johnson grabbed another defensive rebound in the game’s final seconds and charged toward the basket with hopes of sending the night out with a slam.

Instead, he let up at the end of his stride and settled for a layup to close things out.

“I had to realize I was running for a long time, so with the last steal I kind of felt my legs give out,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Aww.’ I wanted to dunk it, but I couldn’t.”

Johnson entered Saturday hoping to move past his struggles against South Carolina. Even before he made it happen, the fans in Auburn Arena proved they were behind him all the way.

Johnson was fouled late in the first half, and after picking himself up and walking toward the line the crowd around him began chanting his name. Whether it was inspiration for the play that followed or just a nice gesture toward a player looking to return to form, Johnson made it clear gestures like that don’t go unnoticed.

“I love The Jungle. I ain’t never played in something like this,” Johnson said. “I love the fans. I get on Twitter sometimes and talk to them a lot, you know? I just love interacting with them, and I love them. I appreciate them a lot. They play a big part in our wins.”

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