Elijah Johnson seized the moment. And then some.
Heralded Kansas freshman Josh Selby was supposed to start in place of suspended Tyshawn Taylor Monday night against Oklahoma State, but couldn’t when he forgot an orthotic for his shoe. So KU coach Bill Self turned to Johnson, who usually played the role of the Jayhawks’ seventh and sometimes eighth) man off the bench.
The result? A 15-point, three-assist night in a 92-65 win for the nation’s No. 3 team.
“Hopefully, this will be a confidence boost for him. I’m not going to make any brash statements on who is going to be our starter for the rest of the year,” Self said afterward. But the ball’s definitely in his court. He has a chance to be if he keep performing like that.”
Perhaps Johnson’s most impressive performance was his defense on OSU guard Keiton Page. The Cowboys’ second-leading scorer missed nine of 11 shots and had three turnovers.
The last thing Kansas needs is another guy who wants to shoot the ball and fill up the scoreboard. That’s not a problem with this year’s squad. What is mostly needs is someone who can check opposing guards (Read: Last Monday’s showing vs. Jacob Pullen.)
If Johnson’s that guy, Self will stick with him.
“We haven’t had good point guard defensive play consistently like I think we could,” Self said. “And this was by far, in recent memory, the best job that anybody’s done as far as being sound on a guy. I thought he played really smart.”
However, it’s just one game, which was against a sub-par defensive team. As Self later noted, if Johnson can play the same way on the road, it’ll really mean something.
If Johnson does struggle, Kansas can turn to Selby or seniors Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar in a pinch. Self doesn’t lack for options, which might prove to be crucial in March. By then, Taylor might even be back in the lineup, offering the Jayhawks (26-2, 11-2) yet another option.
(That’s not even on Self’s radar right now. He said the popular junior “put himself above everyone else as of late” and doesn’t know when he’ll be back on the court.)
But right now, things look promising with Johnson. Real promising.
“Elijah’s more of a combo guard than he is a point guard,” Self said. “Tonight he looked more like a point guard than he has in practice and things.
He looked like a basketball player tonight. He looked like a legitimate player in our league.”
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