When Alize Johnson brandishes his resume tape to NBA suitors this summer, the Missouri State forward should probably just give scouts a copy of the second half of Wednesday night’s game against Valparaiso.
The preseason Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year scored 20 of his game-high 24 points in the second half as Johnson helped lead Missouri State to a 64-57 win over the Crusaders at the JQH Arena in Springfield, Missouri.
Johnson showed his dominance during a stretch midway through the second half when he scored on an offensive put back, added a conventional three-point play and then knocked down a 3-pointer in the span of 96 seconds. Johnson’s outburst was part of an 18-3 run that turned the game around for Missouri State.
“They got easy baskets and that’s what great players do,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “Our margin of error is pretty small. We can’t give up easy baskets and beat a team like Missouri State.”
The Crusaders (11-9, 2-5) delivered their best start in a Valley road game this season, grabbing a 13-4 lead less than seven minutes into the game. Johnson scored back-to-back field goals during a 14-2 run that gave the Bears (15-5, 5-2) an 18-15 lead with 7:48 remaining in the half. Valparaiso quickly got back in control as Bakari Evelyn scored on a jumper and Markus Golder added a highlight reel dunk. The pair scored 12 straight points for the Crusaders, who entered the locker room with a 31-26 advantage.
“I’m not big on silver linings; in the first half we were locked in, especially on the defensive end,” Lottich said. “One of the things with us right now, being a little inexperienced, in the first half we were about to yell out defensive coverages. In the second half, I didn’t think they were doing much else, but they got a lot more easy baskets getting out in transition. We didn’t execute well enough to beat the preseason conference favorites on the road.”
Johnson, who was limited to just three field goals in Missouri State’s 67-50 win at the Athletics-Recreation Center on Dec. 31, had four points and six rebounds in the first half. After three sluggish halves against the Crusaders, Johnson exploded to finish the night with 24 points and 17 rebounds. The former JUCO transfer scored the first 10 points of the half for Missouri State and looked every bit the part of potential NBA prospect.
As Johnson heated up in the second half, Valparaiso went ice cold. The Crusaders missed 13 of their first 18 shots after the break and shot just 29 percent from the floor in the second half and 18.2 percent (2-11) from the 3-point line. Valparaiso ended the night missing 17 of 21 3-pointers.
“I thought we were focused,” Lottich said. “Our first half was good and our defense led to our offense. I was happy with the first half effort, but we’ve got to play 40 minutes.”
Golder led the Crusaders with 12 points and five rebounds while Tevonn Walker added 10 points while missing 11 of his 15 field goal attempts and all six 3-pointers. Evelyn and Max Joseph both added nine points for Valparaiso.