No One Concerned About Johnson's Slow Start

Brett Friedlander

Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a pattern. Or in the case of Markell Johnson, an early season shooting slump.

The NC State star, who led his team in 3-point shooting at 42 percent a year ago, is off to a frigid start to the 2019-20 campaign. He’s made only two of his first 17 attempts from beyond the arc and is shooting just 22.9 percent overall (8 of 35) through his first three games.

No one, least of all Johnson himself, seems overly concerned about his slow start. But the preseason All-ACC point guard did admit Sunday following the Wolfpack’s win against against St. Francis, that he doesn’t “feel right.”

“It’s just all about rhythm right now, getting back into the flow of things and getting back into my rhythm,” he said. “I’m not too worried about it. It’s early in the season, so I’m not worried about it at all.”

Johnson's season got off to a disjointed start when he suffered an ankle injury in practice a few days before the Wolfpack's season opener against Georgia Tech on Nov. 5. 

He missed that game, an overtime loss, but returned to action quickly. His shooting touch, however, has been much slower to recover.

"I think it is just a residual effect of his ankle injury," coach Kevin Keatts said following the St. Francis game, in which Johnson went 4 of 13 (0 of 4 on 3-pointers) while scoring nine points in a 95-64 victory at Reynolds Coliseum.

"When he twisted it, it was almost to the point that I thought he had broken it," Keatts said. "He just has a fear of shooting shots that he is going to come down on someone. But until the shooting comes, he will still be able to be a facilitator for us.”

To Johnson's credit, he hasn't let his shooting difficulties affect other areas of his game.

He leads the ACC in assists with 23, including 10 in his debut performance against Florida International and nine Saturday against St. Francis, and is among the league leaders in steals at 1.7 per game.

He's also begun attacking the rim more aggressively rather than relying so heavily on his perimeter jumper while helping State to an average of 86.5 points per game and three straight wins.

As far as Keatts is concerned, it's only a matter of time before Johnson's shots start falling again.

“It is going to take some time to find his groove and his rhythm and right now, it’s just not there," Keatts said. "He will be fine. It could be as soon as the next game that it clicks for him. He hasn’t had great practices just in the regard that he hasn’t been able to score the ball well, but once it happens he will be fine."

Wolfpack teammate C.J. Bryce said he's not in any hurry for Johnson to finally break out of his slump. He said it's not something anyone associated with the team is talking about.

"That’s pressure that we’re not putting on Markell, because we know what he can do," Bryce said. "He shows us everyday in practice. He’s going to come to it as a basketball player, so we’re not worried about it.”

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