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Column: Johnson's absence tough for Spartan women's basketball

March 12, 2014
<p>Freshman guard Tori Jankoska shoots the ball while defended by Nebraska forward Emily Cady on March 8, 2014, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Spartans were defeated, 86-58, and will not advance to the Big 10 Championship. Betsy Agosta/The State News</p>

Freshman guard Tori Jankoska shoots the ball while defended by Nebraska forward Emily Cady on March 8, 2014, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Spartans were defeated, 86-58, and will not advance to the Big 10 Championship. Betsy Agosta/The State News

Photo by Betsy Agosta | The State News

It’s been more than a month since it was announced that junior guard Kiana Johnson was indefinitely suspended for a violation of team rules. We still don’t know what the cause of Johnson’s suspension is, or if she will be back in time for the NCAA Tournament.

With the Big Ten Tournament concluding last Sunday, it seems unlikely Johnson will suit up as the NCAA Tournament starts.

I f that’s the case, it’ll be an unfortunate end to the season for the junior guard.

It also will be sad news for the team, which certainly has missed Johnson’s presence on the court despite going 7-2 since her suspension.

Let’s take a look back.

On Jan. 12, Johnson overcame an upset stomach to help the Spartans win against Michigan in Ann Arbor, scoring 12 second-half points, dishing four assists, picking up two steals and earning a key charge to help MSU escape with a 79-72 victory .

On Jan. 30 against Wisconsin, Johnson stepped up off the bench, scoring 11 points and dishing four assists in 25 minutes, making a point to set up teammates as players began to look for their own shot. Suzy Merchant praised Johnson’s willingness to run the offense as players tried to produce their own shots.

A stagnant offense has been a major factor behind many of MSU’s losses and too close for comfort victories this season, especially in the two losses against Nebraska.

The first of those losses occurred on Feb. 8 and prevented the Spartans from taking control of first place in the Big Ten, and the second happened last Saturday as the Spartans were eliminated from the conference tournament.

When the going got tough, it was Johnson who made a point to keep the offense moving. It was Johnson who maintained effort on the defensive end.

Freshman guard Tori Jankoska and senior guard Klarissa Bell, who have split point guard duties in Johnson’s absence, have had moments of brilliance. But it hasn’t come consistently.

I’m not questioning Merchant’s decision to suspend Johnson, who also was suspended during the 2012-13 season for violating NCAA guidelines regarding extra benefits. But with the NCAA Tournament coming up, her absence looms large.

Omari Sankofa II is the State News women’s basketball reporter. Reach him at osankofa@statenews.com.

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