Few if any people outside the Jackson State locker room give the Tigers much of a chance to be within 30 points of the Gators in Friday night’s NCAA Tournament game. And that’s with good reason. The Tigers have faced some pretty good teams this year and the results have been in a word, ugly.
Alabama beat Jackson State by 31 (96-65), Georgia Tech posted a 30-point win (100-70) and Memphis blew the doors off by 42 (111-69). Jackson State is clearly in over its head, but star shooting guard Trey Johnson is not.
Johnson is the number two scorer in college basketball averaging 27.1 points a game. And he’s done it against the better teams. In those three games listed above, Johnson scored 36, 33 and 32 respectively. His season high came in an upset win at Texas El Paso when he lit up the gym for 49.
Yes, the 6’5” star from Jackson, Mississippi takes a lot of shots, 17.5 per game from the field, 7.3 free throws a contest. But his shooting numbers are quite solid (FG .455, 3-pt .441, FT .750). He can make them from all over the floor and he provides Florida with its biggest (and, frankly only) challenge in this one.
Florida Coach Billy Donovan and two of his key defenders talk about the challenge and opportunity that comes with facing a scoring machine like Johnson.
Donovan: “I don’t think you get to the point they (Jackson State) are at being just a one-man team. The thing that’s impressive to me (about Johnson) is that he gets a lot of attention and deservedly so. He’s a terrific player. He’s a great player who can score a lot of different ways. But those other guys on the floor with him really do a terrific job playing their role. It’s still a team game and it’s still five guys out there playing defense and playing offense together. They all step up and provide what their team needs, whether it’s steals, whether it’s rebounds, whether it’s defense. Or whether it’s screens to get him open.
He plays the game the right way. He makes the extra pass. He gets the other guys involved, and he gets the ball where it needs to go if he doesn’t have something. He gets a lot of publicity and exposure, but really it’s his team as a group that’s really, really good. He’s doing it against everybody so it’s pretty impressive what his team’s been able to do.
LV: Corey, how much of the time are you scheduled to be on Trey Johnson?
CB: As much as I can, hopefully. I gotta try to keep him out of his rhythm and not let him get hot. Hopefully I can distract him ‘cuz I’m a little taller than him.
LV: How pumped up do you get about facing a guy who scored so many points and whose team depends on him to have a big night?
CB: I really am (pumped) because he’s gonna try to come at me all night. Everybody gives me a reputation as a defender and he’s supposed to be a great scorer. I know he’s going to try to get his game off and I have to be prepared.
LV: What makes him so good?
CB: He scores in a variety of ways. He can shoot the three and he can get to the basket. He also has the mid-range game so he has the total package. I just have to try and stop him any way I can.
LV: What have the coaches told you about Jackson State?
WH: They’re a very good team. We have to focus on playing defense and not having too many turnovers.
LV: What are your thoughts about facing Trey Johnson, a guy whose scoring more than 27 points a game?
WH: Well, first of all he takes a lot of shots and that’s part of it. He’s good, but when you take a lot of shots you’re gonna make a lot of shots. We just have to contain him and play great defense.
LV: Will a lot of guys have him at different times and try to wear him down?
WH: Yes, sir!
LV: Do you look forward to playing a high scorer like him and the challenge of making it tough on him?
WH: I love that! Maybe he can get a couple of baskets on me, but I’m going to do my best to give him some stops.
Trey Johnson might get his 27 or so Friday night in New Orleans. But no matter how tough he is to stop, his season ends big, easy.