John­son’s burst sparks Wolf­pack past Van­der­bilt

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JONAS POPE IV [email protected]­ald­sun.com

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.

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