February 23, 2011 8:48:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Ravern Johnson''s career at Mississippi State has been filled with ups and downs.
For all of Johnson''s natural talent and scoring ability, the senior wing has had a tendency to dissent.
Johnson has been disciplined twice this season for violating the team''s class attendance policy and has served two suspensions for detrimental conduct in the past two seasons.
Johnson has missed three games this season due to suspensions, with an indefinite suspension levied from coach Rick Stansbury following comments critical of coaching on Twitter following MSU''s loss at the University of Alabama on Feb. 5.
He hasn''t talked to the media since that night.
Johnson missed two games because of the incident and for missing too many classes, and has started each of the past three games on the bench.
A scenario like that would have affected Johnson''s play in previous seasons. It did earlier this season, as he fought through a mid-season shooting slump.
However, Johnson''s response to coming off the bench has been exemplary, Stansbury said.
"Seems to be with him now, for the first time, I really believe he''s learned some things," Stansbury said. "He''s using it to help him, not just as a basketball player but as a person."
Johnson leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 17.1 points per game. He took the bulk of the team''s shots while Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost were suspended for the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Johnson''s form in the past two games has helped take pressure off point guard Dee Bost, who is playing through hamstring and Achilles injuries.
Johnson scored 16 points Saturday in a 71-58 victory against the University of Mississippi. He had a team-high 21 at Kentucky last Tuesday. He is 10 of 17 from the floor in the past two games.
Teammates say Johnson isn''t forcing shots or getting as discouraged when a shot doesn''t fall. They also said he has taken well to freshman Jalen Steele taking his place in the starting lineup.
Steele gives the Bulldogs a solid on-ball defender and provides an extra ballhandler, which isn''t one of Johnson''s strengths.
Still, Johnson has played 28 and 25 minutes in each of the past two games.
"Anytime you''re suspended it should motivate you," Bost said of his roommate. "But he''s not taking bad shots; he''s just coming in and playing hard and finding his rhythm."
Before the Alabama road game Feb. 2 -- the last before Johnson served his second suspension -- Johnson had scored 19 points against Vanderbilt and 15 against Florida. He was just starting to regain his shooting touch. Bost said Johnson told him he was "frustrated" when he tweeted negative comments following the loss at Alabama but he hasn''t complained since coming back from suspension.
"He''s accepted his role," Bost said, "and we need him to come off the bench and score."
Stansbury said the current lineup is effective and likely will stay the same at 8 tonight (CSS) against LSU (10-17, 2-10) at Humphrey Coliseum.
Johnson''s game has evolved as he has found his way to the free-throw line twice as much as he did last season. Prior to this season, nearly 60 percent of Johnson''s shots came from behind the 3-point arc.
He has put his angular 6-foot-7 frame to good use by driving to the basket and getting to the line, where he''s shooting 78 percent.
Johnson''s initiative to play off the dribble started in the season opener against Tennessee State, when he hit 13 of 14 from the line and scored 32 points. He has shot 50 more free throws in 13 less games compared to last season.
The ability to get to the free-throw line has helped him overcome lower 3-point shooting percentages in league play. Johnson hit 46.3 percent in non-conference play last season and has made 38 percent this year. His efficiency dipped in SEC play at 38 percent last season, including SEC tournament games. He is shooting 32.8 percent this season.
"I know teams aren''t going to give me space to shoot," Johnson said in the fall. "I know I can do more for the team if I go to the basket. I understand a lot more. Me and the coaches talk about what I got to do in the game offensively and defensively, so I just take that into mind when I get out on the floor."
Against Ole Miss, Johnson had a pair of uncontested dunks that came from playing aggressively toward the basket. Always an aerial threat for a lob, Johnson can be a dynamic threat when MSU runs the court.
Transition baskets and points at the free-throw line will help boost the confidence of a player and a team, so keeping Johnson involved is crucial to everyone''s energy, guard Riley Benock said.
"He''s just been more positive and upbeat and playing really well," Benock said. "You like seeing other guys that are positive. Even though people may not say it, anytime you see a teammate down or questioning things that are going on, it does take a toll on you whether they say it or not."