Where does Keon Johnson’s 38-point effort in Winthrop’s win over Illinois rank in the school’s men’s basketball history? Hard to say, but it’s certainly near the top.
“That’s as good an individual performance, certainly top-five, I’ve ever been around,” said Illinois coach John Groce. “He was terrific.”
Not only did Johnson score a career-high 38 on 15 of 21 shooting Monday night, but he ripped off seven straight points late in the game to help Winthrop evaporate a 10-point Illinois lead with 3 minutes to play and force overtime.
Adding to the mythology, Johnson fought cramps for most of the last 10 minutes of regulation and OT. During Winthrop timeouts, the team would surround coach Pat Kelsey, while trainer Jeff Lahr and a couple of bench players massaged and kneaded Johnson’s shot leg muscles.
6 times Keon Johnson has scored 30 points or more in his four years at Winthrop. Charles Brunson holds the school record with nine.
Monday night revealed the makeup of Johnson to a wider televised audience, via the Big Ten Network.
The preseason Big South player of the year is erroneously listed as 5-foot-7. He’s 5-foot-4. And a hell of a player. And probably soon to be Winthrop’s all-time leading scorer.
Cramps contorted Johnson’s face with discomfort as ESPN3 cameras zoomed in on him during stoppages in play. Illinois defenders zoomed in on him too, but Kelsey said afterward that at about the 3-minute mark he told his team to clear out and let Johnson make plays. The senior obliged.
Johnson raced past Illinois defenders for two straight buckets at the rim, before an exclamation point third, a nifty up-and-under scoop lathered in all kind of English spin, after he’d picked up his dribble and was in a tight spot.
Johnson followed his shot and of course he crashed to the deck. And he got right back up and hobbled to the other end of the court while Winthrop’s jubilant bench punched air.
“That’s just who he is, man,” said Kelsey. “He’s just a little warrior. Fearless.”
Johnson came off the bench Monday night after missing the previous game against Florida State with a foot injury. It wasn’t clear if he would play at Illinois, but the cramps ended up more of an issue than the foot.
“You don’t see the real Keon until the lights come on,” Kelsey said. “When those lights come on, he just elevates his performance, elevates his bravado and he’s just hit big shot after big shot, his entire career.”
443 Keon Johnson needs 443 points to pass Charles Brunson as Winthrop’s all-time leading career scorer. Johnson scored 599 points in his junior season, so passing Brunson is not an impossible task.
The little machine mayve turned in the best performance in Winthrop men’s basketball history. He couldn’t have done it without his teammates, though.
Johnson missed a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left in regulation and the Eagles down three, but redshirt senior Tevin Prescott craned his long arm into the air to tap the ball back out for a new possession. Bjorn Broman then whipped it in the corner to a wide open Xavier Cooks, who buried the left corner 3 that tied the game and ultimately forced overtime.
Oh, and there were the mini-massages from teammates that kept Johnson in just good enough shape to plow through the twinging pain.
“How cool is that?” Kelsey rhetorically asked Dave Friedman during his postgame radio interview. “That’s the makeup of our guys.”
Is it the best?
Johnson’s effort against Illinois may be the best individual effort in school history.
Jimmy Gavin could stake a strong claim after torching N.C. State for 38 points last November, but that was in a loss.
Craig Bradshaw and Torrell Martin both had big games when the Eagles upset Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament in 2007, but neither scored more than 24 points. Martin also had high-scoring outings against North Carolina and Wisconsin that same season, but both games ended in defeat.
Some folks on social media mentioned Michael Jenkins’ 33-point effort in the Big South championship game against UNC Asheville in 2008 that sent the Eagles to the NCAA tournament. Considering that the game was played in Asheville definitely adds a degree of difficulty and Jenkins’ effort, which again resulted in a somewhat unexpected NCAA tournament berth, is certainly worthy of consideration.
Tweet Bret McCormick @BretJust1T or email him at email@example.com if you can think of a better Winthrop men’s basketball individual performance than Johnson’s.
Winthrop men’s basketball top individual scoring games
45 - Melvin Branham, Jan. 10, 1994 vs. Charleston Southern
42 - David McMahan, Jan. 15, 1996 vs. Coastal Carolina
40 - Michael Jenkins, Nov. 10, 2006 vs. North Greenville
40 - Fred McKinnon, Nov. 29, 1985 vs. Morris College
39 - Mike Gaither, Nov. 18, 1982 vs. Coker College
38 - Keon Johnson, Nov. 21, 2016 vs. Illinois
38 - Jimmy Gavin, Nov. 27, 2015 vs. N.C. State
38 - Greg Lewis, Dec. 21, 1999 vs. UNC Greensboro