Since entering the starting lineup five games ago, redshirt freshman forward Lykendra Johnson has proven extremely effective for the MSU women’s basketball team, using her size and athleticism to bother the other team defensively on the wing.
But recently, Johnson has added an expertise in the low post to her offensive repertoire, giving opposing defenses fits.
“They forget I was a power forward in high school,” Johnson said. “So posting was my original game.”
The 6-foot-1 forward from River Forest, Ill., ashowed how good that game was Thursday at Northwestern, when Johnson showed the hometown crowd what she could do. She scored 13 points and pulled in 15 rebounds, her first career double-double and the most rebounds by a Spartan this season.
“Coach’s role for me is more of a rebounder and a defensive stopper before scoring,” Johnson said. “Everybody knows (we try) to get (junior center Allyssa DeHaan) the ball, but they forget about me too, so that’s a plus.”
Johnson originally was inserted as a starter to add a little spark to the team at the beginning of games.
Coming off a tough road loss to Ohio State and a few dismal first-half performances, head coach Suzy Merchant started Johnson and fellow freshman forward Courtney Schiffauer
to give the team energy at the start of games.
“Those two kids, I thought they did a nice job of extending our zone and making it pretty challenging,” Merchant said. “They’re big, but they’re also pretty mobile.”
Entering her first start in a home game against Northwestern, Johnson was averaging 4.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 15.2 minutes of play.
“It was kind of special to get my named called out there,” Johnson said after posting three points and four rebounds in her first start.
“It could have been anybody else. But you got to go out there and play hard regardless, no matter if you start or come off the bench.”
She has gotten the hang of her starting role since. In her last three games, Johnson
has averaged 11.7 points and 7.7 rebounds.
“They’ve added a lot,” Merchant said following the first game after the lineup switch. “We started out of the gate stronger than we’ve ever started. I thought our offensive flow was solid, as well.”
The offensive flow of the entire team has improved since the switch. Since Johnson and Schiffauer have been in the lineup, the team is averaging seven more assists and four fewer turnovers per game — key factors in the Spartans’ five-game winning streak.
“We are all filling in well,” Johnson said. “By us coming together as a team now and filling in the roles we’re a better team.”