March 2, 2018 4:36:26 PM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The left wing turned into Roshunda Johnson's personal shooting gallery Friday afternoon.
In a span of 1 minute, 7 seconds, the Mississippi State senior guard turned a close game into another blowout with her own set a fireworks. Johnson drained a 3-pointer, followed with a trey 57 seconds later, stole an inbounds pass, and then hit another 3-pointer from nearly the same spot to propel No. 1 seed MSU to an 81-58 victory against No. 9 seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
"I felt good," Johnson said. "At first, I wanted to start off not settling for threes and I wanted to focus more on attacking. If I drove it and somebody was open, I was going to kick it."
Johnson paced MSU (31-0) with a game-high 20 points to lead four players in double figures. Victoria Vivians (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists), Blair Schaefer (15 points), and Teaira McCowan (12 points, 11 rebounds) also reached double figures to help push MSU into the semifinals where it will face No. 5 seed Texas A&M, a 75-69 winner against No. 4 seed LSU, at 4 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU).
MSU, the regular-season champion, turned the game with a 23-9 second quarter in which it shot 8-for-14 from the field. The Bulldogs were 5-for-6 from 3-point range in the frame.
MSU quickly turned a 23-22 deficit with a 10-0 spurt to start the second quarter. That burst grew into a 19-2 run that turned the tide.
"I think we got some stops and we got going in transition and they lost our shooters and they made shots," MSU coach Vic Schaefer said. "Blair and Ro both had shots they made in transition. I think we turned them over in the press two or three times.
"That is kind of how we are. We're going to get you once or twice a game with some runs. I think that has kind of been our MO all year long."
Johnson played a starring role in the run, although it didn't start out like she planned. After baskets by Jordan Danberry and Vivians, Johnson bounced the basketball off her foot in a half-court set. She recovered in time to avoid the turnover and find Schaefer, who drained a 3-pointer.
Johnson the shooter then took over.
Vivians found Johnson for a triple at the 6:04 mark. On the next possession, Morgan William rebounded her miss and fed Johnson for another trey on the left wing. Johnson then stepped in front of Taylor Murray to intercept an inbounds pass from Maci Morris. She made the steal two steps behind where she hit the first 3-pointer. Johnson used a power dribble to move two steps to her left to create space and get a shot off before Morris arrived. The basket capped the run and gave MSU a 41-25 lead with 4:25 to go in the quarter.
"She has been playing like that for a while now," coach Schaefer said. "She is as hot as anybody on our team, especially in the last six now. Ro is a heck of a player. I kind of hope she keeps flying under the radar personally. I hope nobody pays any attention to her because she is going to keep lighting people up."
Johnson is averaging 17 points in the last seven games. She is shooting 51.9 percent from the field (42-for-81) and 54.5 percent (24-for-44) from 3-point range. Her effort Friday was her third 20-point game of the season.
"I am feeling pretty good," Johnson said. "It is just staying in the gym. When my teammates find me, I have to knock down the shot."
Blair Schaefer, who has developed great chemistry with Johnson the last two seasons, said they are similar in that they have small windows to get their shots off as 5-foot-7 guards. She also feels Johnson has the ability to add another dimension to the Bulldogs' attack when she plays like she did against Kentucky.
"I think she just needs to understand we need her to be like that if we're going to be successful as a team," Schaefer said. "She needs to understand people are going to play her for her shot because she is a great shooter, so she needs to understand that she needs to see the gap. If they give her that gap, she needs to shoot it, but she also needs to drive it and attack or pitch. She can finish it or find us on the wing. There are so many things she can do. When she gets that in her head, we are going to be a crazy team."
Johnson also is playing well on defense. She spent the majority of her minutes guarding Maci Morris, who entered the game leading Kentucky (15-17) in scoring at 17.5 points per game. Morris was 5-for-13 from the field and had 13 points in 34 minutes.
"This one did a heck of a job on Maci," coach Schaefer said of Johnson. "She really shadowed her, made it hard on her, and did a really good job.
"Ro's a pro. I can't say it enough. I will tell anybody who is in here. Somebody is going to get a good player with Roshunda Johnson. She defends. She can beat you off the bounce. She obviously can stretch you."
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Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.