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December 23, 2013
Analysis: Johnson debut doesn't disappoint
John Johnson.So this is
Patrick Chambers, Penn State men's basketball's always-optimistic head coach had been prepping Nittany Lion hoops fans for weeks - months even - for the playing debut of the Pitt transfer. He said in November that one of the biggest reasons his team's practices were so competitive was because of the "chomping at the bit" of the 6-foot-1, 175 pound Johnson.
"He's going to be a force," Chambers said. "He's a big time scorer and he's tough."
Fair enough, but with Johnson having been in Happy Valley for an entire year without setting foot onto the hardwood in live action, the true impact of another scoring guard at Penn State remained to be seen.
Sunday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center, the 8,284 fans in attendance saw it.
Dropping 20 points in 22 minutes (8 of 11 from the floor, 2 for 2 from beyond the arc) Johnson's scoring dramatically changed the course of a game that was definitely not going in Penn State's favor in the first half. Trailing 46-37 at the break, the Nittany Lions needed a spark off the bench, and Johnson didn't disappoint, specifically knocking home shots at key moments in a prolonged comeback bid.
Checking in at the 15:35 mark, Johnson nailed a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 61-60, then followed with an and-one layup, another loopdy-loop layup to tie it at 65-65 with 12 minutes, 14 seconds remaining, and another key 3-ball to again tie it at 69-69.
Is it too early to mention Johnson in the same breath as Talor Battle? Judging by the multi-year All-Big Ten efforts of Battle, the answer is an emphatic no.
Still, when it comes to the eye test of crafty guards making "did I just see that?" scoring plays, one can't help but wonder what the future will bring for the redshirt junior during the next two seasons.
Though Chambers wouldn't allow for the suggestion of Johnson's flair for the dramatic in the post-game press conference, it'd be hard to argue that, at least on first impression, this young man brings something dynamic to the floor for Penn State.
Asked about the scoring output, Chambers said he expected double-figures from his Philly-native guard. "Not 20, but I expected double-figures. 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."
The intriguing aspect now is that, having more than lived up to whatever hype accompanied Johnson's debut, Chambers has a lineup that is as deep and talented as he's had in the three years he's been at the helm.
Coming during a season in which rules changes have put Penn State's guards into foul trouble far more often than at any other time in recent memory, Chambers has a much-needed backup plan heading into the Big Ten season.
"He's going to really help our bench, and that means we're going to be a little bit deeper. So when Tim does get in foul trouble or D.J. gets in foul trouble, we'll be able to put somebody in that you really feel secure about because he's been here a year," Chambers said earlier in December. "He should have a great understanding of what we're doing."
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