By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – It’s a common sight in practice: Ravern Johnson, the lanky 6-foot-7 junior for Mississippi State, draining one shot after another. Outside the 3-point line, inside the 3-point line – his stroke is a pure one.
And he’s certainly proved himself as one of the most dangerous shooters in the country, especially when he’s hot. And boy, is he hot right now.
Johnson is currently hitting 48.2 percent from downtown, which ranks second in the SEC and 24th in the country. In Saturday’s 72-54 win against UCLA, he poured in a career-high 29 points, making 12 of 15 shots and 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
“In practice, I’ve seen him light it up like that all the time, but not in a game,” junior Phil Turner said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that, just personally being on the floor with somebody like that. That was unreal how he just kept making it and making it.”
Johnson made 10 of his first 11 shots, but here’s the thing: Only two of his first-half makes were 3-pointers.
“That’s good for Ray,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “He needs to score some other ways besides making threes.”
Johnson averaged 12.1 points per game and made 39.5 percent of his threes last season, and he was often streaky. Over his last three games, he’s hit 24 of 34 shots (70.6 percent) and 13 of 20 from behind the arc (65 percent).
That’s not just streaky, that’s consistent.
“I just think I’ve been more relaxed, haven’t really been trying to force any shots, just taking good shots,” said Johnson, who was named the SEC Player of the Week on Monday. “My shot’s been feeling right in rhythm. I just felt like I couldn’t miss.”
– MSU (7-2), which plays host to Wright State (6-3) on Wednesday, has won four in a row, and convincingly: by 14 points against Old Dominion, by 52 against St. Bonaventure, by 31 against DePaul, and by 18 against UCLA.
A team that was uncertain of its identity early in the season is suddenly clicking on all cylinders, and the last two wins were perfect examples of that.
Despite playing a brand opponent – albeit a struggling one – the Bulldogs simply played their game and shut down the Bruins’ offense. Against DePaul, which packed in its defense on center Jarvis Varnado, MSU went crazy from 3-point range, hitting 12 of 29.
“We’re having a lot of fun while we’re playing now, because we’re playing well with each other,” Turner said. “I think that plays a big part in it.”
The cross-country trip Thursday night after playing DePaul in Tampa, Fla., didn’t bother the Bulldogs one bit. They hit the ground in Anaheim, Calif., on at full speed and didn’t let up, racing out to a 40-19 halftime lead.
“I was surprised myself, to be honest with you,” senior guard Barry Stewart said. “I didn’t even know the score. We were playing so good, and the score really didn’t matter.”
Bailey to take medical?
– Junior reserve Elgin Bailey has been hampered all season by an ankle injury he suffered near the end of last season. He’s played in only four games, averaging 4.3 minutes, and could wind up taking a medical redshirt.
He can apply for the medical exception as long as he doesn’t play in more than 30 percent of MSU’s regular-season games and doesn’t play past the midway point of the season.
With 7-1 freshman John Riek coming off a nine-game NCAA-mandated suspension Wednesday, Bailey’s presence in the post shouldn’t be missed quite as much.
“Maybe now with another body, maybe we’re at that point,” Stansbury said. “We’ll see.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org