CANONSBURG – Senior guard D.J. Johnson averaged only three points per game for the Canon-McMillan boys basketball team last season, a role player who wasn’t counted upon to do much except spell those ahead of him and give quality minutes when called upon.
This year, Johnson wasn’t even supposed to be a starter because of a sprained thumb he suffered this fall and an illness that kept him out of practice for portions this week.
But with the Big Macs’ top scorer, Brett Haney, struggling offensively against Blairsville in the first round of the EQT Energy Classic last night, Johnson showed he knows a thing or two about giving the team a much-needed spark off the bench.
Johnson scored 17 points, including eight during a pivotal stretch in the second quarter when the Big Macs pulled away, to carry the host team to a 65-26 victory late Friday night.
“I feel badly for Brett that he kind of struggled, but one of the things we always wondered was, ‘What was going to happen when we ran into a night where Brett struggled?’ ” Canon-McMillan coach Rick Bell said. “He was the only guy we had returning who averaged double figures and had a lot of experience. So from that aspect of it, it was great to see somebody else step up. You could see the whole momentum of the game turn when D.J. started hitting those shots.”
Johnson deflected nearly all credit for his accomplishments, crediting his teammates for getting him the ball. And apparently ignoring the fact that someone actually has to knock down the shots, Johnson doesn’t want to get too carried away with the whole star thing.
“It’s not that big of deal,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to get all big-headed about it.”
Johnson was the only Canon-McMillan player in double figures. Sam Bohn contributed nine points, Jake Cadez eight, and Evan Beach and Seth Combs had four apiece.
Haney, who averaged 13.2 points per game last season, finished with four.
Canon-McMillan trailed, 14-12, 2 minutes, 46 seconds into second quarter after a floater that Blairsville’s Troy Williams banked in.
But the Big Macs responded by scoring 15 consecutive points, the final two on a layup from senior center D.J. Mikec with 1:25 left in the half, to produce a 27-14 lead.
Johnson drained a jumper from the right corner during the stretch and also made two 3-pointers. Overall, he made five shots from beyond the arc.
“Coach always tells me to keep on shooting,” Johnson said. “I kept shooting, and they kept going in.”
Canon-McMillan, which won this event last year by beating Trinity, 53-52, in overtime, advanced to the semifinals and will play Burgettstown Saturday at 8 p.m.
Blairsville, who got 12 points from Williams, jumped out to a 10-9 lead after a sloppy first quarter, with the teams combining for eight turnovers and seven field goals.
Johnson gave Canon-McMillan some life midway through the second quarter, making a 3-pointer at 4:16 to give the Big Macs a 16-14 lead. Johnson stretched it to four when he grabbed a long rebound and knocked down a jumper from the right corner.
Despite struggling early, the Big Macs’ top scorer, Brett Haney, made a clutch 3-pointer to push Canon-McMillan ahead, 21-14, and keep the run going.
Johnson made a pair of 3-pointers early in the third quarter, too, as Canon-McMillan outscored the Bobcats, 23-4, during the period, including 18 consecutive points over the final 5:52.
The game got out of hand in a hurry, as Canon-McMillan outscored Blairsville, 44-9, over the second and third quarters combined.
Johnson attempted just 50 shots in 16 games last year, making 17 of them. But with the Big Macs losing three starters – and especially with Haney struggling – there’s no doubt that Johnson’s be counted upon for more production like he gave Canon-McMillan Friday night.
“There’s no doubt that he has that ability to spark us offensively,” Bell said. “One of the things we told him was that he also has to work on the defensive end of the floor, which he did. I’m really proud of him for what he did.”