December 10, 2009 10:03:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Ravern Johnson understands the importance of playing defense.
The Mississippi State junior guard never has been afraid to shoot the basketball, but defense hasn''t always come as easily for him.
Even though the benefits don''t always show up in the boxscore, Johnson has learned concentrating on defense can make a difference.
"I take more pride in it than I did the last few years I''ve been here," Johnson said.
Johnson''s continued improvement in that area will be a plus for the Bulldogs as the season progresses. They will take the next step at 5:30 p.m. today (ESPN2) when they take on DePaul in the SEC/Big East Challenge in Tampa, Fla. MSU then will travel to Anaheim, Calif., for a game against UCLA at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
MSU (5-2) is coming off a 105-53 home victory against St. Bonaventure on Saturday. Johnson likes the way the team is playing defense, and he hopes the momentum from that performance carries over.
"Our defense has really improved, but it''s basically because you understand a lot more," Johnson said. "When you get the scouting report, you''ve really got to concentrate on that and understand what the person you check is doing. That really helps a lot."
Johnson showed his quickness on defense in the second half against the Bonnies when he ran to cover guard Michael Davenport. Johnson was initially beaten, but made up ground to knock the basketball out of bounds.
MSU coach Rick Stansbury believes Johnson has always tried to become a better defensive player.
"That doesn''t mean he''s always been successful when he tries," Stansbury said. "We all know he''s not a very physical young man, but he has gotten so much better."
Johnson said he''s working hard to be a better all-around player. Even though MSU senior center Jarvis Varnado has noticed the defensive improvement in Johnson, he knows he''s best at offense.
"Ravern still hits shots," Varnado said. "Ravern is going to be Ravern. He''ll do what he does."
Johnson is third on the team in scoring (12.4 points per game), second in 3-pointers made (18), and first in 3-pointers attempted (42).
He has made his only free throw this season, which indicates one thing to him.
"I guess I don''t drive in (the lane) hard enough," Johnson said. "If I get fouled, I don''t ever get called, so all I can do is keep trying."
Johnson could use that strategy against DePaul (5-2), which has the reputation of being a strong defensive squad. The Blue Demons only allow 56.6 points per game.
"We know DePaul isn''t going to be easy," Johnson said. "We''re going to have to go down there with a winning attitude, know what we''ve got to do, and stay together."
Senior guard Bill Walker (17.3 ppg.) leads DePaul. Stansbury calls him "a guy who can really score."
n MSU sports report secondary violations: MSU men''s basketball coaches won''t be allowed to attend off-campus recruiting events on the first two days of the July 2010 evaluation period.
The self-imposed penalty, revealed by MSU Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Bracky Brett in a letter to the Southeastern Conference, came after the school self-reported a secondary violation in September. While fulfilling an information request by the NCAA, the school found that on July 26, Stansbury started evaluating an event in Nevada "approximately 15 minutes" before assistant Marcus Grant ended his evaluation of an event in Florida. Brett called it "time zone confusion" for Stansbury.
Also, the MSU football team was docked two hours of offseason workouts in the summer because members of the coaching staff were in the same building as players who were participating in workouts. Coaches aren''t permitted to be present at those workouts. A thunderstorm caused the players to go inside not far from where coaches were signing up players for summer camps.
1. Mississippi State's Kylin Hill declares for NFL Draft COLLEGE SPORTS