Back on Feb. 13, in his second game back from a thumb injury that had sidelined him for eight games, center Reggie Johnson came off the bench to hit all five of his shots in the University of Miami’s victory at Florida State.
He scored ended up with 14 points, second on the team to Shane Larkin’s game-high 22, and had a game-high eight rebounds.
He also blocked a shot and had a steal.
The numbers are significant for a couple of reasons:
-- Without them, the Hurricanes may not have gotten their 74-68 victory.
-- They were the last time the big (6-10, 292) senior has managed to score in double figures
Over the last seven games, Johnson has averaged only 3.1 points per game and came up completely empty once (at Duke on March 2).
He has shot only 29.0 percent from the field in that span, an especially poor figure for someone who rarely puts one up from more than a couple of feet from the basket.
In his last three games, all starts, he has a total of three points and made only one of his 10 field goal attempts.
Not surprisingly, one of the topics at a media conference before the Hurricanes left for Greensboro, N.C., and the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament was how to get the big guy going again.
“Right now, I think the best thing for Reggie is just enjoy playing with his teammates, working hard in practice, not feeling any pressure” coach Jim Larranaga said.
Just treat it like when a batter goes into a batting slump, Larranaga said.
“You know what the hardest thing for him to have to do?” he said, meaning the slumping baseball player. “Answer questions as to why he’s in a batting slump because your mind starts to focus on what’s wrong.”
With the other weapons Miami has in its arsenal, Johnson doesn’t have to score big or much at all, but he can be a big factor in other ways.
“Quite frankly, for him to play really well and to help us win is really about the two things we need him to do -- defend and rebound,” the coach said. “He can do both of those very well without ever worrying about scoring.
“The scoring is a bonus. We have guys who can score.”
Johnson’s rebounding numbers also have declined recently, however.
Over his last seven games, he has averaged 4.7 rebounds a game, which is almost three under his season average. His season average has declined from 10.1 a game before his injury to 7.4 as the top-seeded Hurricanes begin their postseason with Friday’s ACC quarterfinal game against Boston College.
After reaching double digits in rebounds in five of seven games before the injury, Johnson has been in double digits on the boards only once with 10 rebounds against last-place Virginia Tech on Jan. 30. Also, he has only three blocked shots over the last seven games, none in the last three.
One key factor that could aid a comeback: Johnson’s teammates have not lost faith in him. Senior guard Durand Scott noted that the injury he sustained on Dec. 23 put Johnson in a tough situation mentally.
Not only was Johnson out for a month, his replacement, Julian Gamble came in and played exceptionally well, keeping Johnson on the bench until the trip to Duke, when Gamble’s numbers began to slip.
“When look at it, it’s kind of a sticky situation and you kind of feel bad for him,” Scott said of his teammate for the last four years. “But in my book I think he’s the strongest person on our team mentally.”
When asked if he felt a responsibility as the point guard to get Johnson going again by getting him the ball more down low, Larkin said that was responsibility of everybody.
“Reggie’s just got to play,” Larkin said. “He’s in a slump right now. Everybody goes through it. He’s just got to get back to being Reggie, just being a big strong dude that goes rebound the ball and has great post moves.
Larkin said Johnson can not let the slump get to him.
“We’re going to need Reggie to have 15 and 10 in some of these games that are coming up soon,” Larkin said, meaning points and rebounds, respectively. “Reggie’s a team guy, a team player.
“With Reggie knowing we’re going to have to count on him in one of these games coming up, he’s going to show up big, so I’m not worried about it.”