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Penn State Basketball: Johnson Shines In Nittany Lion Debut

by on December 23, 2013 10:50 AM

Penn State fans could have expected just about anything from John Johnson when he stepped on to the floor Sunday for the first time in a year.

Johnson, a Pitt transfer who has sat out the last year due to NCAA transfer rules was more than ready to play, but a year on the bench takes it toll.

So when Johnson finally checked in to the game only a few minutes into the contest everyone just watched. And as Johnson rounded across a screen and took a pass from a teammate, he shuffled his feet.


Johnson kind of rolled his eyes and bounced the ball to the referee and made his way down to the defensive end of the floor.

But did Johnson ever make up for that mistake.

In his debut, Johnson scored a team-high 20 points. He scored in transition, he scored two from beyond the arc, he scored at the free throw line and his scored driving to the hoop. For a player that head coach Patrick Chambers has praised for his ability to score the ball, he did not disappoint and did not look tentative about trying to.

"Not 20, but I expected double figures," Chambers said of Johnson's output after the game. "He’s been doing it for a year now. I expected a good output and it wasn’t just his offense, I thought he did some good things defensively. He helped us get some steals and turnovers."

"It feels great to be back on the court after sitting out for almost a year and a half," Johnson said. "I don’t really go into a game expecting to play good or bad but my teammates were looking for me, they found open shots for me and I was able to have a good game. I was just focused on playing defense and getting stops. Once I heard some of the people that came up for the game cheering and yelling for me, it gave me a lot of confidence."

Penn State will need that kind of game from Johnson on a regular basis. Maybe not 20 points every night, but if he can provide the Nittany Lions with a strong player off the bench and a strong defensive effort he can be the x-factor Penn State needs in the rotation. Graduate transfer Allen Roberts has made a difference already as the sixth man and Johnson could only continue that trend of positive bench play.

Simply, the more scoring and defense Johnson can contribute to the more it will balance out of team on both sides of the ball. Senior guard Tim Frazier didn't take a shot for the first 14 minutes of the game and hardly pressed the issue at all, but still managed to score 15 points and dish out 6 assists thanks in large part to four other Nittany Lions scoring in double figures Sunday. The more the team does, the less a single player has to carry the squad.

"I think Tim learned so much from last game," Chambers said of the team's overtime loss to Princeton. "I think he went out and you saw the way he’s capable of playing. He let the game come to him, he made simple, solid decisions. He knew when to shoot, he knew when to pass."

"He did a lot of good things out there, made winning plays, got winning rebounds and played with such a clear head in the second half. He was not going to let us lose that game. I think he used the disappointment and anger from Princeton as a positive."

How Johnson's play will average out remains to be seen, but if his play on Sunday is a sign of things to come and an early Christmas present, Chambers will gladly take it. The Nittany Lions closed out their non conference schedule on Sunday and will now open up Big Ten play on New Years Eve against Michigan State. It's all hands on deck now.

It's hard to argue that Penn State isn't well prepared for the challenges the Big Ten will present; but there is equally little doubt that the Big Ten will throw some punches at a Nittany Lion team hoping to make a statement in Chambers third year in Happy Valley.

But if the Nittany Lions can continue their balanced offensive attack and continue to improve on defense, there isn't any reason Penn State can't throw some punches back over the next few months.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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