B.J. Johnson’s freshman season was not as productive as he would have liked. Stuck behind veteran forwards in the starting lineup and off the bench, his playing time was severely limited. In fact, he did not appear at all in most of the games once conference play began.
”I just used last year as a learning experience,” Johnson said. “Learning behind Jerami (Grant) and C.J. (Fair). They always drilled it in my head to keep my head up, keep pushing, keep working. Next year will be my year and here it is.”
Not only did Johnson figure to see an increased role this season with fewer players in front of him up front, but Syracuse lost their key small forward reserve when Michael Gbinije did not play for undisclosed, non-injury related reasons.
”I definitely knew that with Mike being out, somebody was going to have to step up,” Johnson said. “I tried to make the most of it I just go out every game with the same mindset. Do what I can do to help the team get a win.”
In all of last year, Johnson scored 14 total points. In the season opener this season, he eclipsed that mark by five, chipping in a career high on the night. Not only that, he contributed in other ways as well.
“B.J. did a good job,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He got a couple good looks and offensive rebounds. He had a very nice game. He’s a good player, a good shooter."
Johnson added eight rebounds, four assists and a steal in Friday night’s win, proving that Syracuse does in fact have quality depth at forward. Johnson’s scoring ability also allows him to play in the backcourt if needed.
”I’m not only a shooter but a scorer,” Johnson said. “I can score the ball in multiple ways not just with a jump shot. I can put the ball on the floor a little bit, crash the boards, get easy layups.”
It was a fantastic performance for Johnson, who gave the Orange a spark in the first half as they struggled offensively. He checked into the game at the 14:30 mark of the first half, with Syracuse clinging to a small four-point lead.
It started with a layup about four minutes later to push the Orange lead to six. Less than a minute later, Johnson added two free throws. Then another layup. Then a steal and an assist. Then an offensive rebound and layup.
In an eight minute span, Johnson scored eight points on 3-4 shooting, dished out an assist, had a steal and snatched five rebounds. Johnson credits his production to his work in the weight room during the offseason.
”Just getting stronger,” Johnson said. “That made everything else easier.”
Johnson wasn’t done either. He came back into the game late in the half and added three more points, another assist and rebound.
In the second half, Johnson showed his outside shot, hitting two of his four attempts from beyond the arc. All-in-all, it was a spectacular performance from the sophomore forward who scored via his jump shot, off of the offensive boards and driving the lane.
”I think it’s very important, especially for coach to see,” Johnson said. “It gives me a little more leeway. He might come my way when we need a bucket or something. After you knock down a few shots, the basket looks like a big ocean. After I hit a couple, I felt good and I felt like everyone after that was going in.”