Perhaps just as concerning as last week's Disney debacle for Vanderbilt was Kedren Johnson’s part in it — or lack thereof.
The point guard scored a season-low four points on 2-of-11 shooting and missed all five 3-pointers in an embarrassing 50-33 loss to Marist last Friday in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.
Johnson’s lack of production wasn’t for a lack of effort. In a game where the team’s leading scorer had eight points, the 6-foot-4 Johnson faced double teams when he curled out of ball screens. His drives often were cut short, which forced him to dump off the ball early. He finished with three assists.
While Johnson can’t be the only go-to guy for the young and inexperienced Commodores (2-3), he must score in order for the team to have a chance at success.
“We don’t have anybody that can be a non-threat, a non-factor,” coach Kevin Stallings said. “He’s our leading scorer [at 17.6 points per game] so he is a guy that has to be efficient. Not only in scoring but he has to get other people the ball and positions for them to score. He has got to be a good offensive player for us and he is a good offensive player.”
After bouncing back with 17 points in a win against Texas-El Paso two days later Johnson looks to stay on track as Villanova (3-3) comes to Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN2) as part of the SEC/Big East Invitational.
The sophomore from Lewisburg has made 48.5 percent of his shots thus far. Twice he has scored 25 points or more, including a career-high 28 in last week’s loss to Davidson in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic.
He ranks sixth in the Southeastern Conference in points per game and he accounts for nearly 30 percent of the team’s scoring.
“Just making the right plays is probably the biggest thing more than scoring in bunches,” Johnson said. “Helping getting some of my teammates involved more than I did this past weekend. I’m going to have to be assertive. Every time I get out there I try to be assertive, try to take matters into my own hands sometimes, try to create for some of the other players. I’m just going to keep being aggressive.”
Johnson is being handed plenty of opportunities.
He averages 36 minutes a game, second in the SEC to only teammate and fellow point guard Kyle Fuller (36.4). The backcourt remains short-handed with the absence of A.J. Astroth and Dai-Jon Parker.
Astroth, a 6-foot-6 wing, has played just three minutes this season. He sat out the season opener due to an ankle injury and has missed the last three games due to a strained hamstring. He has been limited in practice this week and is doubtful to play Saturday.
Stallings did provide an update on Parker, a sophomore shooting guard who missed the first five games and two exhibition contests. Stallings said Parker’s suspension for a violation of non-academic team rules will continue through the next three games and should be back for a Dec. 17 game against Cornell.
“Unless we have some other setbacks, which I’m not anticipating, I think we’ll end up at a 10-game suspension, including the exhibition games, and I’ll probably reinstate him at that point,” Stallings said. “I just think that’s what we needed and what he deserved.”
Until then, Johnson will garner much of the attention — from opponents and his teammates.
Entering the season, he was targeted as one of the team’s leaders due to his experience. He is the top returning scorer (3.1 ppg) and played the most (14.5 mpg) of any of his current teammates in 2011-12.
For a team that lost its top six scorers, Stallings agreed with Johnson about the significance of him making the right plays. Johnson must set the tone on offense while running the point. So far, he has just 13 assists compared to 16 turnovers.
His ability to distribute must improve. Of course, taking matters into his own hands and scoring doesn’t hurt either.
“We don’t have the luxury that we’ve had in the last few years where if a key guy has a real bad day or an off day that we can survive,” Stallings said. “We can survive a bad game by John [Jenkins], Jeff [Taylor], or Festus [Ezeli] because generally the other two guys would pick that up. But with the way we are right now, the way we are kind of constructed, we need our main guys to play like main guys. When they do, we’ve been OK. When they haven’t, we’ve struggled.”