Johnson’s burst sparks Wolfpack past Vanderbilt
At some point, N.C. State point guard Markell Johnson decided it was time to take over.
With the Wolfpack nursing a four-point lead over Vanderbilt in the Hoophall Miami Invitational on Saturday, Johnson, who spent most of the day setting up teammates, decided it was time to dominate.
Johnson scored 12 straight points to light a fire under his team, coming up big down the stretch as N.C. State secured a 80-65 win. Johnson only had four points at halftime but finished with 19 after a series of drives to the basket in which the Commodores had no answer. Johnson’s personal run pushed the Wolfpack lead to 11 points after Vandy pulled to within two late in the second half.
N.C. State dominated the first half, but needed Johnson to get out of a second-half funk. N.C. State only had two firsthalf turnovers but had five in the first three minutes of the second half. Not only was it turning the ball over, but the Wolfpack (7-1) went cold, shooting 5-for-19 from the field leading into the first media timeout.
While N.C. State struggled, Vanderbilt (5-2) got going, outscoring State 24-14 in the second half before Johnson took over the scoring duties. At one point it looked like Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts would be without Johnson, who went to the bench with a leg injury briefly in the second half. Once he returned, it took a while to get into a flow, but once he did, Johnson was unstoppable.
N.C. State never trailed in the first half, scoring the first two buckets of the game, only to watch Vanderbilt counter with not one, but two, old-fashioned three-point plays to make it a one-point game (8-7).
That would be as close as the Commodores would get as they had 10 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
Leading into the first media timeout, the Wolfpack was shooting 75 percent from the floor and scored six straight points leading into the next break in action. Vanderbilt turned the ball over on consecutive possessions, one of which led to a Johnson no look pass to D.J. Funderburk, who dunked to give N.C. State a 17-9 lead.
N.C. State’s defensive pace was so good that it made up for its mistakes on the other end. C.J. Bryce turned the ball over on one end but hit a jumper the next trip down the floor to make Keatts quickly forget the mistake.
Vandy did cut the lead to four lead by freshman forward Simisola Shittu, who scored six straight, including a wide open dunk.
N.C. State ended the first half on an 8-2 run.