December 15, 2009 12:24:00 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- The game was well in hand, but Diamber Johnson knew there was still work to be done.
The Mississippi State sophomore point guard handled the basketball as she moved to her left and motioned with her off hand for a teammate to set a screen at the left elbow, foul-line extended.
Johnson rubbed her defender off the screen, looked to see if there was open passing lane on the pick and roll, and settled into the open space and drained a 17-foot jump shot.
Johnson executed one of the most effective plays in basketball to perfection Monday night to cap a career-high 11-point evening in the MSU women''s basketball team''s 80-41 victory against Samford before a crowd of 748 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"I have been kind of on the down side and not hitting shots," Johnson said. "The coaches keep telling me to keep my head and the shots will start falling. I think I have always done a good job of reading (the floor)."
Johnson''s performance was one of many highlights on a night in which MSU (7-3) led Samford (7-3) 40-10 at halftime. The 10 points were the fewest in a half ever allowed by the Lady Bulldogs. The previous low was 11 by Alabama State in 1998.
Senior guard Alexis Rack, who earlier in the day was named the Southeastern Conference Women''s Basketball Co-Player of the Week, led MSU with 15 points. Armelie Lumanu (14 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and four steals) and Mary Kathryn Govero (10 points) also scored in double figures for MSU.
But Johnson''s 5-for-5 shooting night was one of the most impressive efforts considering she had shot 2-for-23 in the past six games. The cold streak came after one of Johnson''s best games at MSU, a 10-point performance Nov. 18 in an 81-35 victory against Utah Valley.
Johnson, a 5-foot-7 right-hander from Pontotoc High School, looked poised and in control in 23 minutes. It helped that she hit her first shot of the evening -- a jump shot off a pass from Govero -- at the 15-minute, 42-second mark of the first half.
"Once that first shot falls you have more confidence," Johnson said. Even though the first one bounced around a couple of times I was just letting it go."
Johnson played in 32 games and averaged 14 minutes and 2.8 points per game last season as a freshman. She saw more minutes than expected because senior guard Marneshia Richard wasn''t able to return from a knee injury. Johnson figured to play a different role this season after Richard rehabilitated her knee and was healthy through the summer. But Richard suffered another season-ending injury in the preseason, which forced Johnson to move back to the role she played in 2008-09.
With Rack and Lumanu sharing point guard duties, Johnson also sees minutes at the two guard. There have been times this season when she has been one of four guards on the floor as part of a smaller, quicker lineup.
Whether it is at the point or as an off guard, Johnson knows she can be a scoring threat. The trick is proving it every night, even if she misses her first shot.
"We have a team that it can be anybody''s night," Johnson said. "We just have that advantage of having a lot of scorers and options. I know I can be a person who can make it happen."
MSU coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said Johnson will play a key role as the team gets closer to the start of the Southeastern Conference season. A year ago, Fanning-Otis said Johnson provided energy and steady leadership off the bench. This season, she hopes Johnson continues to mature and gain confidence so she can broaden her game and be even more productive.
"She was ready to take her shots (last year)," Fanning-Otis said. "I feel like she has been just falling short on that. I think she will tell you this: I don''t think she anticipated to be in the role she is playing right now with Marneshia coming back. I think it bit her. I have really challenged her. You have a couple of weeks and there are going to be some players who are going to be working ad some who are going to be sitting. I told her you need to be working right now."
Fanning-Otis said Johnson has been taking good shots that haven''t been falling. She said she likes how Johnson reads the game and "thinks one play ahead" when she runs the team. After what could be a breakout game Monday night, Fanning-Otis wants to see Johnson build on that effort at noon Wednesday when MSU plays host to Mississippi Valley State.
"You could tell she was feeling it when she was looking for (her shot)," Fanning-Otis said. "She always plays within the offense and tries to do what you ask her to do. I was proud for her that this fell for her, and maybe this will help her get back on track."
NOTES: The player of the week honor is the second this season for Rack. She scored 11 of her 32 points Saturday in a 15-0 second-half run that helped MSU earn a 72-68 victory at Louisiana Tech. Rack also had four rebounds, two assists, and six steals in the game. She is the second Lady Bulldog to win the award twice in one season, joining LaToya Thomas, who accomplished the feat in 2001. ... MSU shot a season-best 63.3 percent (31 of 49) from the field against Samford. The Lady Bulldogs shot better than 61.5 percent in each half. The 8-for-18 effort (44.4 percent) from 3-point range also was a season-best. ... MSU''s 34-21 rebounding edge was its biggest margin of the season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.