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Despite win on Sunday, Johnson will continue to be essential for Spartans

January 28, 2014

The women’s basketball team’s return to form on offense happened with the subtraction of a key player on Sunday — junior guard Kiana Johnson.

The two-game slide preceding Sunday’s win against Ohio State coincided with Johnson’s worst two-game stretch of the season, which saw her shoot 2-of-20 and dish 11 turnovers opposite of 14 assists. The Spartans set season lows in points scored in both losses.

Johnson didn’t travel to the Ohio State game with the team because of personal reasons.

Despite the win, it would be foolish to overlook Johnson’s positive impact on the season.

Johnson is in the midst of her best season as a point guard, leading the most high-powered offense of head coach Suzy Merchant’s career. Johnson still boasts one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the country and has done a better job of commanding a larger role on offense.

The losing streak was not necessarily a direct result of Johnson’s struggles, but there is a correlation.

“We’ve gotta get that kid running,” Merchant said of Johnson after last Thursday’s loss to Illinois. “She’s gotta get more engaged, more enthusiastic, more performance-based or mentally tough. She’s the point guard of the team.”

Johnson missed two games at the beginning of December, and the Spartans were out of sync in both, losing to Florida State and Virginia Tech in the midst of a three-game slide.

Freshman guard Tori Jankoska, who has started in Johnson’s absence each time, struggled when she initially took the reins of the offense in December.

Jankoska seemed much more comfortable as the lead guard on Sunday, tying her career-high with 25 points and knocking down five 3-pointers. Instead of looking to set up teammates, she did what she does best — look for her shot.

With the help of a career game by junior center Madison Williams, who blocked a career-high seven shots, MSU made quick work of Ohio State.

“We had guys making shots, and sometimes, we struggle to execute,” Merchant said. “I don’t think they were different looks. I thought Tori was really, really good. She’s had to play multiple positions for us and has still had to find ways to score. That really helped us.”

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, the last week has proven the Spartans need Johnson to get back on track as they progress through the Big Ten season.

Sunday’s game represented a return to form for MSU, but it’s tough to see the team consistently winning without Johnson’s steady hand on the rock.

“If you can get some consistency out of the performers who are playing consistent minutes, I think you’re going to do well,” Merchant said. “I like where we’re at. We’re still in the running, nobody’s undefeated, we have a lot of tough games in front of us. For us really, it’s just the next one at this point.”

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