With family in stands, Meechie Johnson Jr. hits game-winner for Ohio State
FORT MYERS, Fla. – The celebration echoed through Suncoast Credit Union Arena and stretched back at least a generation.
A frenetic final minute between Ohio State and No. 21 Seton Hall was decided by a 3-pointer from Meechie Johnson Jr. with roughly two seconds to play. After taking a pass from Kyle Young well behind the 3-point line, Johnson gave a thought to trying to drive past Bryce Aiken and instead pulled up from about 25 feet.
When it rattled home for the final points in a 79-76 win for the Buckeyes, the loudest cheers belonged to the man who shared Johnson’s name. Seated about 10 rows up behind the Ohio State bench, Demetrius “Meechie” Johnson Sr. pumped his fists, somewhat unsuccessfully fought back tears and hollered for his son after the biggest moment of his career.
“Just it’s a blessing from God, man,” Johnson Jr. said after the game. “Ohio State’s always been a dream school of mine. And to be in that moment like that, to help win the game with your team and for the state of Ohio, for Cleveland, everything, man, it means a lot.”
An accomplished player in his own time, Johnson Sr. still works as a professional basketball trainer after prematurely ending his own career when Johnson Jr. came into the world in order to focus on being the best father he could be. As his prep career grew and his college recruitment picked up, the younger Johnson vowed that all his firsts would be for his dad: his first college game, his first press conference, his first game-winner. This season, he specifically asked to be recognized as "Jr." by the in-game arena announcers.
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So when that final basket settled inside the rim, both Meechie Johnsons felt it. Johnson Jr. said it was his first game-winning shot since his sophomore year at Garfield Heights, Ohio, which was also his last fully healthy season. He missed his entire junior season of high school after tearing the ACL in his right knee and, instead of playing a full senior season of high school basketball, graduated early, joined the Buckeyes in mid-December and played around 100 minutes as a first-year reserve player.
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This year, the hope is he will have a significant role for the Buckeyes, and the coaching staff is letting him play through mistakes. He’s shown enough that, after Seton Hall tied the game on Johnson's turnover during the final 20 seconds, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann opted not to use a timeout and trusted his players on the court to make the right play.
There were a few guys who had the green light in that moment. Johnson Jr. was one of them.
“He’s gutsy,” Holtmann said. “He’s not afraid of the moment. You’re always looking for that (from) guys late.”
Johnson Jr. didn’t make a field goal in the season-opening win against Akron. Later, he would describe his performance as timid and vowed to play with more confidence, and he made good on that with 14 points in last Thursday’s loss at Xavier. Monday night, he finished with 8 points, including the 3 that mattered most. On the broadcast, legendary broadcaster Bill Raftery yelled out, “Big-time onions!” as the cameras cut to Johnson being mobbed by his teammates.
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“I think his attitude and approach has been what you see in good players who get better,” Holtmann said. “As long as I’ve been doing this right now, players that … they just come to work and get better, they have the right attitude, they typically will improve as the season goes on. I’m proud of him right now. To this point, he’s been really good with that.”
Monday night, he wasn’t the only one proud of Johnson Jr.
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