The K-State Wildcats cruised past the St. Louis Billikens 84-53 Saturday night, and I’m not even sure it was as close as the score suggests.
The Wildcat defense stifled the Billikens, grabbing 8 steals and blocking 7 shots, and even though Wesley Iwundu and Barry Brown had a cold shooting game, K-State was efficient on the offensive end, shooting 52.5 percent from the floor and converting 23 assists.
Dean Wade had a solid performance, scoring 13 points on 7 attempts, grabbing 5 rebounds and 2 steals, dishing out 4 assists, and blocking 1 shot in 22 minutes. But the Wildcats from St. Louis were the stars of the game. Xavier Sneed scored 15 points in 15 minutes, making half of the team’s 3-pointers.
And D.J. Johnson had a fantastic game in 28 minutes. He scored 21 points on 11 shot attempts, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked 2 shots without committing any fouls. In a game filled with highlights for the southpaw from St. Louis, the best may have been when he grabbed his lone steal of the game out beyond the 3-point line and took it all the way to the other end for a fierce dunk.
What stood out the most, though, was how well he let the game come to him. Johnson obviously knows what his repertoire is, and tonight he didn’t force any low-percentage shots against an outmatched SLU squad. There were multiple times he could have forced up a difficult shot in the post and drawn a foul, but the team didn’t need him to do that, so he passed the ball out to the perimeter and re-posted. In a different situation he could have gone up strong, draw the contact, and hope for an and-1 play, but Johnson recognized the situation and played made the right play, time and time again. The result was a stellar 10-of-11 shooting performance.
Johnson has grown so much as a player in his time at K-State. At times he has looked like he didn’t know his own strength, and at others he has depended too much on his strength. There were phenomenal plays along the way, like blocking two shots to close out the first half against KU in a game the Wildcats narrowly won, and hardships, like the injury that sidelined him for an entire season and set him back to start last season. This year, though, D.J. Johnson has made himself into an elite post player. Consistency still eludes him, but when he plays within himself he can be the best player on the court.