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Johnson, Bulldogs face South Carolina in road tilt


Matthew Stevens



STARKVILLE -- Roquez Johnson just couldn't wait to get back on the floor and proved it Saturday night. 


In his return to the lineup following a three game suspension for an unknown violation of team rules, Johnson came off the bench to a critical role in Mississippi State University's 73-67 upset at Humphrey Coliseum over in-state rival University of Mississippi. 


"I was just so excited to get back playing that it felt like I had so much energy in that game over a bitter rival," Johnson said. "It was such an exciting atmosphere and I was so pumped that something good happened." 


Coming off the bench Saturday, Johnson didn't worry about his points total but was more concerned with doing the so-called dirty work. 


"I showed Roquez some of the film from his play in the Maui Invitational and told him to not worrying about his scoring but do the little things like rebounding, defending, running the floor and everything would take care of itself," MSU head coach Rick Ray said. 


Johnson, who averages 25.4 minutes per game was able to take the load off MSU's depleted frontcourt of junior college transfer Colin Borchert and freshman center Gavin Ware. With Johnson back in the Bulldogs (8-20, 3-13 in Southeastern Conference) lineup, walk-on Tyson Cunningham was no longer forced to play out position at power forward. 


Johnson's defensive effort was a major reason Ole Miss senior forward Reginald Buckner fouled out after just 29 minutes with five points and six rebounds. 


"He's an active player and he gave Gavin and myself a chance to sit back and relax more," Borchert said. "The weight just off our shoulders and he took a lot of that away tonight. What he did was nothing short of great." 


Johnson will get another opportunity to shine in the paint tonight at MSU travels to the University of South Carolina (6 p.m., to complete a season sweep of the Gamecocks. In the first matchup between the two schools, Johnson had 14 points off the bench after going 8 for 10 at the foul line. 


"He needs to be an energy guy for us and he needs to be a hustle play guy. I showed him some clips of the way Shavon Coleman for LSU has been playing for them," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "I told him he needs to be that type of energy basketball player, not only for us to be good but for him to be good." 


Johnson has said his role in sharing minutes with Borchert, a former East Mississippi Community College transfer, has gotten double figures four of the last five games. The 6-foot-8 forward had a career high 21 points on 7 of 10 shooting against Ole Miss Saturday. 


"Colin has been lighting it up for us lately and with him, myself and Gavin on a roll, we're really starting to play some good basketball late," Johnson said. 


South Carolina (13-16, 3-13) has lost nine of its last 10 with the only victory being also at home against Ole Miss on Feb. 20. 


"You know what, I don't want to hearken back on that South Carolina win because what happened is we forced so many turnovers and scored a lot of points off of turnovers, so we're going to have to find another way to win the ball game," Ray said. "I don't imagine South Carolina will turn the basketball over that much against us again. We're going to have to find a way to manufacture some points and get another way to win." 


Following Wednesday's showdown, the Bulldogs will host Auburn in the regular season finale at 4:30 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports South) for Senior Day at Humphrey Coliseum.



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