Kedrian Johnson, a junior college transfer in his first season with the West Virginia University men’s basketball team, played a career-high 25 minutes for the Mountaineers on Monday night against Oklahoma State and the team needed every one of them as WVU came back from a 19-point second-half deficit to defeat the Cowboys 87-84.
“I thought Kedi [Kedrian] did an unbelievable job for us today coming off the bench,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said after the game. “He gives us another guy who’s got really good foot quickness and he’s really fast. So he gets to the ball so much faster than what some of our other guys do.”
WVU showed very little resistance to Oklahoma State’s duo of Cade Cunningham and Isaac Likekele in the first half. The two combined for 25 first-half points with only two turnovers and two missed shots combined. With starting point guard Miles ‘Deuce’ McBride in foul trouble, Huggins played Johnson in the first more than he has to this point in the season.
“We weren’t getting any pressure on the ball so they were kind of standing around and picking us apart with open people and their dribble penetration was absolutely killing us,” Huggins explained. “It was, ‘Kedi can you go stop somebody?’ and he said ‘Yes sir.’ I thought he was terrific. He was far and away the difference in the game.”
In nine first-half minutes, Johnson scored three points with two assists and a block. That effectiveness led to a larger role for him after halftime as he logged 16 minutes in the second half, including playing the entire final 14:39 of the game.
“Kedi came in and he was a very, very, very big spark for us,” junior forward Derek Culver said. “He’s a very energetic guy, he’s always going to play hard for you. Anything that Kedi gives you is going to be a positive. Today you saw him in full effect.”
Culver was WVU’s best player on the night posting 22 points and 19 rebounds, but without Johnson’s boost to the defense, WVU might not have had an opportunity to win the game. Trailing by 19 with more than 11 minutes left to play, the Mountaineers not only held OSU to just three points over the next five-minute stretch, the Cowboys were held without even a single shot attempt for over three and a half minutes. That lock-down defense allowed WVU to orchestrate a 15 to 1 scoring run that the Mountaineers eventually converted into the victory.
“I see it in practice every day when he guards me,” McBride said of Johnson. “He guards the right way, shows his hands, moves his feet. If he can come in and lock up another player, it makes it that much easier. He understands our defense, he understands our rotations, he’s going to help us big time.”
Johnson finished with nine points, three rebounds, five assists and a block and was able to stay in the game despite picking up four personal fouls. Thanks, in part, to Johnson’s on-ball defense, Likekele was limited to just six points in the second half and Cunningham fouled out with less than a minute left and the game on the line.
He nearly made a game-costing mistake, stepping out of bounds while receiving an inbounds pass late in the game, giving OSU possession down by three with less than 30 seconds left. Johnson was able to make up for it, however, drawing a charge foul on Oklahoma State’s ensuing possession.
“He’s just a real poised player,” McBride said. “I like to compare him to a quicker Jrue Holiday, a guy that likes to control the game and move at his own pace. He’s poised, he doesn’t let little things like that affect him.”