Johnson keeps Deacons dominant at home

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 22, 2008

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
WINSTON-SALEM ó With seven minutes left to play, Wake Forest’s James Johnson grabbed a defensive board and set sail on a 1-on-4 fastbreak against retreating Florida State.
The way Johnson was playing the Seminoles were badly outnumbered.
The freshman produced a coast-to-coast sprint through traffic and punctuated his solo act with a hesitation move, head shake and one-handed throwdown that was reminiscent of former North Carolina star James Worthy.
Johnson’s jam was the highlight of Wake’s runaway 74-57 ACC victory at Joel Coliseum on Saturday.
The wide-eyed Seminoles were still reeling from Johnson’s dunk when the 6-foot-8 wonder from Wyoming plunged in a dagger with his fourth 3-pointer, followed by another flying jam off a steal near midcourt.
“In a nutshell, James Johnson is great,” Wake’s L.D. Williams said. “I’m a fan as well as a teammate.”
During the final minutes, Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, who stayed stuck on 299 career wins, was pouring out enough perspiration to make Maryland’s Gary Williams jealous and his team was searching for the bus.
Eager to escape from Johnson and 13,756 screaming fans as quickly as possible, the Seminoles chose not to foul, preferring to watch Wake guards dribble until the shot clock expired. It was the equivalent of watching quarterback kneel-downs at the end of a football game.
Johnson finished with nine rebounds and a career-high 26 points, including 21 in the second half. He shot 10-for-15 from the floor.
“Johnson has tremendous poise and plays with a lot of maturity,” said Hamilton, who compared Johnson favorably to former FSU star Al Thornton. “He allowed the offense to come to him.”
Johnson got help from freshman guard Jeff Teague, who scored 12 points with an arsenal of floaters and spins. Veteran guard Harvey Hale hit two key jumpers and added 10 points.
Ralph Mims hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points for the Seminoles (12-7, 1-3), who lost their third in a row. Isaiah Swann scored his 1,000th career point on a second-half layup.
With Johnson spending significant time on the bench with foul trouble, Florida State looked like the better team early and rode 13 points by Uche Echefu to a 31-28 halftime lead.
“We were so eager to win the game, we were forgetting how to go about doing it,” Wake coach Dino Gaudio explained. “You have to guard and take care of the ball. That was our theme at halftime.”
Wake (12-5, 2-2) was a different club after the break, refusing to turn it over against a Florida State team with a reputation for tough defense and scoring almost at will.
Wake trailed 32-28 when Johnson ignited a decisive 13-0 run with a 3-pointer and stickback.
The Deacons didn’t trail again, but Florida State got as close as 46-44 with 12:43 remaining on a driving scoop by Jason Rich. A jumper by Hale, a 3-pointer by Jamie Skeen and a 3 by Hale put the Deacons back in control.
Johnson’s monster dunk on his 1-on-4 break made it 61-50.
He got another dunk when Rich was slow to retrieve the ball because he was expecting a whistle for a backcourt violation. Instead Johnson swooped in and took off for a slam that made it 68-55 with 4:48 left.
“It’s a really quality win,” Gaudio said. “We keep telling the kids we have to keep service at home and try to steal a few on the road.”
Wake was coming off ACC road losses to Boston College and Maryland, but it might be able to handle the Celtics and Spurs at home. Wake has prevailed 15 straight times at Joel, dating back to last February. That’s the longest home streak in the ACC.
Not surprisingly, a young Wake team has shot the ball much better when it’s in familiar surroundings. Tie-dyed crowds have supplied loud support.
“When you’re at home, especially with youngsters, there’s a lot of positive energy in the building,” Gaudio said. “When you’re on the road, there’s a lot of negative energy. That’s part of the basketball maturation part.”
The Deacons have won only once away from Joel Coliseum ó at Iowa on Nov. 26.
Their next chance to steal one on the road comes at Clemson on Tuesday.
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or