In the heat of a 9-2 run from Nebraska that gave the Cornhuskers their biggest lead of the game, Nigel Johnson gave Rutgers the answer it needed.
Before Nebraska could run away with the momentum and another lost opportunity for Rutgers, the junior guard splashed his third trey of the day from the corner to stop the bleeding.
The Scarlet Knights (12-8, 1-6) eventually pulled out their first Big Ten win of the season, and the Steve Pikiell era, Saturday in a 65-64 thriller at the RAC.
“DeShawn (Freeman) was coming to set a high-ball screen and the dude that was guarding me, he kind of iced it, so I couldn’t go around,” said Johnson, who tallied 11 points and a perfect 3-for-3 clip from deep. “I had to go the other way. And the big man was kind of far back, so I attacked the big man and stepped back and got him off balance a little bit and was able to hit the shot.
“It was definitely big because they had just went on their run, so we were trying to find a way to fight back. We just needed a big shot and fortunately, I was able to hit it.”
Johnson complemented a career game from Corey Sanders with big shots from beyond the three-point arc. It came as a rebound performance after he was held scoreless on a 0-for-3 clip last Sunday at Indiana.
“I’m definitely getting more comfortable — me and Corey both,” Johnson said. “We’ve been spending a lot of hours in the gym late night, so that’s definitely the thing I would say I give my credit to (Saturday), hitting shots. I had the confidence because I’ve seen it go in a hundred times late night. When you’re doing that, you feel like you can hit any shot you take.”
With an average of 11.3 points per game and starts in each of the past 10 games, Johnson takes his solidified role into the heat of Big Ten play.
The Riverdale (Md.) Baptist product makes a semi-homecoming Tuesday when Rutgers takes on No. 22 Maryland (17-2, 5-1) in College Park, a short drive from his Ashburn, Va., hometown.
With the first conference win achieved, Johnson said Rutgers has the confidence to go out and compete in a hostile road environment.
“I think that’s the main thing because that right there — it just takes our confidence to a new level,” Johnson said. “We knew we’ve been fighting with everybody all year and we’ve always been having close-fought games, so to finally come out and win one, it definitely is a confidence-booster for us and just a good momentum for us to take on the road.”