Inside the Numbers: Emergence of Nigel Johnson keys Virginia

nigel johnson uva basketballVirginia point guard Nigel Johnson was perhaps the best free-agent acquisition in the Power 5 this past offseason.

Johnson, a 6’1” grad transfer from Rutgers, is logging 20.4 minutes per game for UVA, backing up sophomore Ty Jerome, except when he’s replacing him in the starting lineup, as he did to start the second half of Virginia’s 80-60 win over Davidson on Saturday.

Johnson had 14 points in the first half, and was key to the Cavaliers getting off the canvas after scoring just six points in the first 8:06, trailing by as many as eight, before closing out the half up 37-29.

He ended with a game-high and season-high 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 26 minutes, as Jerome got just 17 minutes, scoring two on 1-of-5 shooting.

Johnson also earned more minutes than Jerome in Virginia’s last game before the exam break, a 68-61 loss at West Virginia, getting 23 minutes to Jerome’s 21, as the youngster struggled against the Press Virginia pressure.

Jerome seems to be in a bit of a funk at the current moment. In his last five games, dating back to the 70-55 win over Rhode Island in the Preseason NIT championship game on Nov. 24, Jerome is averaging just 4.6 points per game on 30.8 percent shooting (8-of-26) from the field, with 10 assists and nine turnovers in 24.2 minutes per game.

Johnson has filled in nicely, getting 23.4 minutes per game off the bench, and contributing eight points per game, shooting 40.6 percent (13-of-32) from the floor, with 14 assists, five turnovers and seven steals.

Think back, now, to late March, after the ‘Hoos had been unceremoniously dumped from the NCAA Tournament with a 65-39 loss to Florida in the second round.

Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson, famously, transferred out, taking two senior guards from the equation for coach Tony Bennett, and sending Virginia from everybody’s preseason Top 10 all the way out of the Top 25.

It was expected that Jerome would have to step up big time to make up for the losses of Shayok and Thompson, and four-year starting point guard London Perrantes, now in the NBA.

The addition of Johnson, who averaged 11.3 points per game at Rutgers last season, was a sort of insurance policy for Jerome to ease his growing pains.

In the here and now, Johnson is looking like a lot more than an insurance policy. He’s competing for minutes, and might soon earn the starting nod, if current trends continue.

Story by Chris Graham

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