Nov. 22, 2014
Mychal Johnson, a 5-foot-8-inch freshman guard for the No. 2-ranked University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team, checked into Friday’s game against Tennessee-Chattanooga at the 9:12 mark of the first half.
By the time the scoreboard clock hit 8:15 Tennessee-Chattanooga already had seen enough of Johnson.
Actually, it was a seven-second span in which Johnson hit Tennessee-Chattanooga with a lighting bolt at both ends of the court.
Tennessee-Chattanooga’s Chelsey Shumpert caught a pass and squared up to shoot a three-pointer. Shortly after the ball left Shumpert’s hands, it was headed back in her direction.
Johnson leaped to swat the shot and then sprinted down court to lead the fast break. Setting up on the wing, Johnson launched a three of her own, gently swishing it through the net.
That stunning sequence of a blocked shot and three-pointer at the other end by Johnson stretched a 22-18 Notre Dame lead to 25-18 and ignited a 17-0 run.
Johnson finished with 17 points in Notre Dame’s 88-53 romp against Tennessee-Chattanooga. The Irish sharpshooter was six of nine shooting, including a sizzling five of six from three-point range. The victory improved the Irish to 3-0.
“We always are looking for that spark off the bench and who that is going to be,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “Sometimes it’s Maddie (Cable) and today it was Mychal. It’s always great to look down the bench. We have so many options and she took her opportunity today, on her birthday yet, to come in and have her career high.”
Johnson put up remarkable numbers in her high school career, leading St. Joseph High School of Huntington, West Virginia, to four state crowns. She averaged 18.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 4.4 steals a game in her prolific career.
“We encourage her to shoot it regularly,” McGraw said about Johnson. “She has the shooter’s mentality that Michaela (Mabrey) has. We talked to her about the idea that everything Michaela does, that’s we what want you to do. Be fearless taking your shot, don’t worry about misses, just keep shooting, and she’s really done that well.”
In Wednesday’s 71-63 victory against Big Ten Conference power (and 15th-ranked) Michigan State, Johnson only played two minutes. When McGraw called Johnson’s name against Tennessee-Chattanooga, she made an instant impact.
“She stays ready,” Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey said. “She’s the type of player who is ready and willing to contribute in any way we need. We had a little discussion before the game to let her know it was nothing she did wrong at Michigan State. It was just that type of game. Coach (McGraw) was leaning more toward experience.
“For Mychal to be ready like this and not think twice, it’s a really good sign of her being mature and our freshman class being able to make a big impact, which we knew they would. It’s nice to see her getting her shot to make a really big impact.”
Johnson’s ability to contribute off the bench will be critical, as the Irish Sunday start a stretch of three games in three days.
McGraw had no hesitation about turning Johnson loose on the perimeter, and she rewarded the Irish for the trust invested in her.
“My teammates are always encouraging me and my coaches are always encouraging me,” Johnson said. “When I get into the game, I have the green light. It’s a great feeling, once you get your shot going, you know the next one is going in, and you continue to shoot.”
Johnson is a multi-dimensional threat for the Irish. In addition to giving the Irish a long-range scoring threat, she can easily shift into high gear in the transition game. She’s being counted on to handle the ball and give Irish point guard Lindsay Allen an occasional break, and she’s a key factor in the pressure defense.
“Mychal’s really tenacious,” McGraw said. “She’s smart, she knows how to play defense, she rotates well, and she can get up and guard the ball. She takes pride in her defense. That’s something we really need and I’m pleased with where she’s at now.”
Now that she’s recovered from nagging injuries over the summer, Johnson is just starting to show off her abilities. Johnson had to play catch-up, because she missed out on summer workouts. She’s only recently had a stretch of two weeks without missing a practice.
Johnson’s talent and work ethic have enabled her to bring firepower off the bench, like she did against Tennessee-Chattanooga. Ivey believes Johnson’s exceptional play on Friday is sign of things to come.
“Mychal is perfect for the Princeton offense,” Ivey said. “She’s a feisty, really aggressive guard with great speed, and she has a great, great shot. That’s the reason Coach McGraw recruited her, because we thought she would fit perfectly with what we run her. She’s just scratching the surface. She continues to get better every day. She came out right away, no fear. It was really good to see.”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent