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Spark Plug: Nigel Johnson Embracing Sixth Man Role For Rutgers

Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson is averaging 19.5 points in Rutgers last two games.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say that Rutgers’ offense has had a tough time shooting the three ball this year. Twenty-eight games in, the Scarlet Knights are shooting 29.3 percent from beyond the arc, which is last in the Big Ten.

Despite their struggles from the outside, head coach Steve Pikiell has Rutgers playing extremely tough on defense. As a team, the Knights are only allowing 66.8 points per game, a far cry from last year’s debacle on the defensive end (81 points allowed per game).

Some of Rutgers best defensive performances have gone wasted, however, with the offense not able to match their success. If the Knights can start getting their shots to fall more frequently, this is a team that can be a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team going forward.

One guy who is doing his best to solve Rutgers’ three point woes, is Kansas State transfer Nigel Johnson. In his last two games, Johnson is averaging a team-best 19.5 points per game, while shooting 66.6 percent from three (8-12). A marked improvement over his first 25 games, where he was averaging a respectable 10.3 points per game, but was only shooting 26.1 percent from three.

Although, he had been starting for the majority of the season, Steve Pikiell eased Johnson back into action after being sidelined for one game due to injury. In his first two games back versus Ohio State and Minnesota, Johnson played only 18.5 minutes per game as he fought to get back to full strength. With a tough road trip ahead, Johnson continued coming off the bench albeit in a much bigger role.

Good call, Coach.

In Rutgers 74-55 loss at Purdue, Johnson was particularly effective from downtown. He buried five threes, all in a variety of different ways: Off the dribble, off a screen, spot up, and on the break.

How Is He Doing It?

I recently had the chance to talk with Nigel, and it’s plain and simple.

Old fashioned, hard work.

When asked why he’s been playing so well, Johnson was quick to point out that extra reps are a driving factor.

“I've been spending time in the gym getting shots up," Johnson opened with. "I found my rhythm."

No surprise here. A quick YouTube search reveals a video of Nigel Johnson, set to Drake’s “5AM in Toronto”, working out and getting shots up in his downtime at the RAC.

Getting shots up is a way of life for Nigel Johnson, as is making sure to point out that he’s not doing it all on his own.

“My teammates keep looking for me and depending on me to take and make big shots,” said Johnson.

Right now, confidence levels are high for Nigel Johnson and Rutgers. Especially after almost knocking off NCAA Tournament hopeful Northwestern on Saturday. With three home games left before the Big Ten Tournament, the Scarlet Knights have a chance to gain momentum.

When talking about their upcoming home stand, Johnson remained hopeful as ever.

“Definitely 3 games we can get," he said confidently.

Go-To Guy, No-Call Ref:

In a fore mentioned loss to Northwestern, Steve Pikiell showed remarkable confidence in his junior guard, although it was drown out by a crucial no-call.

Down by two with less than a minute remaining, Rutgers had the ball coming out of a timeout. In the biggest moment of the game, Steve Pikiell called on his hottest shooter, Nigel Johnson.

Coming off a double-screen, Johnson caught the ball from Corey Sanders and rose up for an open three. As he went up, Northwestern’s Sanjay Lumpkin put his hand flush on Johnson’s torso, forcing him to the ground as the shot fell inches left of going in. The foul wasn’t called, leaving the normally diplomatic Steve Pikiell in disbelief after the game.

Fearsome Fivesome:

Assuming Corey Sanders sticks around for another year, the group of Sanders, Johnson, Deshawn Freeman, Mike Williams, and head coach Steve Pikiell, will have one solid year together to make things work. The Knights will only be losing one major contributor from this years team, C.J Gettys, and will have a talented recruiting class coming in. If next years team can make the same measure of improvement that this years team made, Rutgers should be right in the thick of things next year.