After slow start, Nori Johnson becomes College of Charleston's top 3-point threat
There was a moment, just after Thanksgiving, when College of Charleston guard Nori Johnson wondered what had gone wrong.
William & Mary at College of Charleston
William & Mary at College of Charleston
When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Where: TD Arena.
Records: CofC 13-14, 5-7 in CAA; William & Mary 16-9, 8-4.
TV/Radio: CSS/WTMZ 910-AM
Notes: The Cougars are coming off one of their worst offensive performances of the season in their 60-44 loss to Northeastern on Saturday. . It was the lowest point total for the Cougars all season and their lowest shooting percentage (29 percent) for the season. . Freshman guard Joe Chealey led the Cougars will 11 points, while Canyon Barry chipped in 10 points. . Adjehi Baru had eight points and nine rebounds in the loss. . The Tribe is coming off a 93-70 win over UNC Wilmington Monday night. . The Tribe hit a school record 16 3-pointers in the victory. . William & Mary was 16 of 30 from 3-point range against UNCW. . Brandon Britt had 22 points for the Tribe. . The Tribe beat the Cougars, 74-63, on Jan. 27. . Marcus Thornton had 26 points and Britt added 15 points in the win. . Anthony Stitt led the Cougars with 18 points, while Anthony Thomas 16 points. . The Cougars have the top-scoring defense in the CAA, giving up 62.4 points a game. ..The Tribe is second in the CAA in scoring, averaging 74.0 points a game.
A senior, Johnson had looked forward to his final campaign with the Cougars.
For three seasons, the former Byrnes High School star waited patiently in the background, watching former Cougar greats Andrew Goudelock and Andrew Lawrence grab the headlines and highlights.
So this was supposed to be his season, his moment to shine.
And then it wasn't.
The emergence of freshman guards Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey during preseason practices and some hiccups in the classroom found Johnson buried deep on the Cougars' bench for much of the first two months of the season.
Johnson played in just five of the Cougars' first 12 games, and then only sparingly, totaling just 17 minutes of action.
He was hurt and angry. Most of all, he was frustrated.
"You're a senior and you want to be out there playing and helping your teammates," Johnson said. "No one wants to sit there and not play. I'm not going to lie, it made me mad. There were games out in California where I felt like if I had I played we might have won."
But as Johnson sat on the bench game after game, he began to realize he was to blame for his lack of playing time.
"Honestly, I couldn't be mad at anyone else, I did this to myself," Johnson said. "I can't point any fingers at anyone else. I had to hold myself accountable and that's another thing that I learned throughout this process. I have to take ownership of my actions. It taught me some valuable lessons."
Instead of pouting, Johnson went to work. Before practices he would get to the gym early and work on his game, especially his shooting. Johnson knew eventually his time would come.
That chance came against The Citadel in the Cougars' first game back from Christmas break. He hadn't played in a game in nearly two weeks.
With the Cougars leading their cross-town rivals by just seven points early in the second half, Johnson entered the game. When the ball was swung around to him in the left corner, he left it fly and hit nothing but net for his first points of the season. Two possessions later, he hit another 3-pointer, and another and another. In all, he went four of seven from 3-point range and turned a close game into a rout.
"The door was open a crack and I wanted to put my foot through it and not let it close on me again," Johnson said. "I knew that was my chance to show what I could do, and I tried to make the most of it."
Johnson went on a shooting tear after the Citadel game.
He hit three crucial 3-pointers against Davidson in a Cougars' victory, then two games later scored 18 points, knocking down six threes over James Madison.
Johnson followed that up by tying a career-best with seven 3-pointers against Hofstra in a 25-point barrage. Two games later he had 23 points, on seven of eight shooting from 3-point range against UNC Wilmington. For the season, he is 38 of 87 (43.7 percent) from 3-point range and easily the Cougars' top outside shooter.
Johnson became a full-time starter Jan. 19 against Towson, a position he has not relinquished.
"Shooting is contagious and when Nori started to shoot well, everyone seemed to follow suit," said College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik. "Nori has really opened things up for us on the offensive end. Teams cannot sag in on our post players because they have to step out on Nori."
There was some second-guessing about Johnson's playing time in the first half of the season. Wojcik is just glad Johnson's finishing up his career with the Cougars in style.
"I'm really proud of Nori," Wojcik said. "A lot of guys would have just quit, gone through the motions and not battled. But Nori didn't. He didn't pout, he didn't bring other guys down. He went to work and now he's been rewarded on and off the court. It's kind of a story of redemption and I couldn't happier for Nori."
However, there has been a down side to Johnson's sudden success. As word began to spread around the Colonial Athletic Association, teams started paying more attention to Johnson.
"I'm having to work for my shots now," he said. "I'm not getting as many open looks as I was earlier in the season. I'm not getting any time and space, but that's OK. I'm going to work that much harder to get open. I'm just glad to be out there again."