"I saw how they were playing me and knew I could get a lot of open looks. It was basically me knocking them down and getting to the hole." Which he did, since only three of his nine baskets were made from long range. Johnson showed the attacking style of scoring that State is wanting from his senior guard.
But if Johnson got things started well for the Dogs, Augustus did more than anyone to make sure the afternoon finished right for State. With a 66-66 deadlock it was the senior forward hitting go-ahead free throws and an open trey that eased fears of any upset.
"I just made a few shots, when we needed them," said Augustus. He was also selective about his shots, going inside the arc more often to hit shorter attempts and draw fouls. "Coach wanted me to be conscious of taking too many threes, so just get it to the paint." Staying around the defensive paint also produced ten of Augustus' game-best 11 rebounds.
Yet despite this tag-team punch, and the added 12 points from center Elgin Bailey, with three minutes remaining there was no certainty Coach Rick Stansbury's club was going to take care of the guests. Lindsey Wilson led for as many minutes as they trailed, hit the boards harder despite glaring height differentials, and took better care of the basketball.
"Give Lindsey Wilson some credit, they're a good little basketball team," Stansbury said. LWC was indeed smaller of stature but played big in several areas. "It was good for us to guard a lot of things they did." Only, the coach didn't think his squad guarded very well. Nor did the Dogs. "We have to be more aggressive on defense," Johnson said. "They had too much penetration the first half, the guards were dishing off to the big guys, and they went to the line a lot the first half."
Also, "They out rebounded us first half, I'm really disappointed about the rebounding," Bailey said. State did end up with a 37-35 win on the boards but obviously below expectations.
"I don't know if complacent was the word," Stansbury said. "I think there were some nerves. Some guys first time, guys in different roles, just a lot of different things. I thought we played up-tight and a little nervous." Whether a SEC team should have been anxious in such a matchup is another matter, but State was certainly not ready to give a dominating exhibition show.
The Bulldogs had an unintentionally-balanced attack in the opening minutes; four shots, and four turnovers. At least Johnson was able to keep the scoreboard tilted State's way, until LWC threw in a pair of threes, including plus-one as Jeremiah Diebler was flattened after the shot, for a 11-9 lead at the expense of a second unit.
State's deficit was five points when the starting squad returned, and Bailey established his post presence with a layup and dunk. Still Wilson was able to hold their own and even keep a modest margin, hitting the boards harder and scrambling quicker after all loose balls. So at 2:37 of the half it was a 34-27 difference.
That was before Johnson slashed five points off the deficit as he drove for one layup, then picked a cross-court pass for a running score, foul, and free throw at 1:52. Augustus evened it up by going full-length for a hard layup, though his free throw for the lead missed. Wilson was able to take a 36-34 halftime lead as Justin Archie scored an unchallenged rebound.
Johnson opened his second half with a tying jumper, and Bailey had no problem overpowering his half-head shorter matchup to finally get the Dogs back in front. Johnson attacked inside for layups, or free throws, before sticking an inbounds three for a 50-41 Bulldog lead.
It still wasn't a done Dog deal though because Kalen Kimberland was able to chunk in a couple of longballs keeping his club in contention. A driving Rayshawn Alexander layup got his team within one, and when Charles Baker was left uncovered his back-side basket put LWC ahead 62-61.
Fortunately for State fouls were adding up for LWC and the corresponding free shots made for much of MSU's offense in a four-minute stretch. This included the tying one-pointers by Brian Bryant, then Bailey; before Augustus produced the fifth personal on Thomas and put State up 68-66. Next time down, Johnson drew attention and kicked out to an open Augustus for the three-ball.
That nine-point final margin was the largest lead of the entire afternoon. Kimberland scored 21 and Archie added 13, as State ultimately limited LWC to 36% shooting. This would be satisfactory under regular-season circumstances. But…
"It's very obvious we weren't very good defensively," Stansbury said. "We weren't smooth at either end. I played a lot of rotations and guys, and it just wasn't good at either end."
State did shuttle personnel through the exhibition, where in a real game Johnson would have certainly been on the court many more minutes. And since Stansbury is without top guard Dee Bost until January, he rotated the point position constantly to get younger and/or newer quarterbacks on the court for needed seasoning. Results were less than spectacular, as starting backcourt Twany Beckham and Riley Benock were scoreless in 46 combined minutes.
Juco transfer Brian Bryant was better with eight points in 21 minutes, but the backcourt as a whole was not a strong exhibition aspect. Stansbury also noted that in the first game, albeit an exhibition, the entire defense seemed to be operating on the assumption a certain graduated shot-blocker would have everyone's back.
"We didn't have that eraser," said Stansbury. Though, State did block eight balls this game with two each for Bailey and soph centers Wendell Lewis and John Riek. Not that any or all of them provide the presence of a Jarvis Varnado. And Lewis was just 2-of-8 at the foul line; in fact at one point the team was just 13-of-27 at the foul stripe.
Soph Renardo Sidney was held out of the exhibition with what Stansbury called a "tweaked leg" from practice this week. "But he wasn't going to play much anyway," the coach said, since Sidney is suspended for nine regular season games.
The first comes this Friday evening when State hosts Tennessee State at 7:00. The other MSU exhibition is being delayed until December 15, prior to Sidney's activation."
So, said Stansbury, "No more of those. The next one counts."