Jayce Johnson providing big presence for Marquette

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Photo by John Steppe

Jayce Johnson (34) staves off Providence player in Marquette’s 81-80 loss against the Friars Jan. 7.

When Jayce Johnson first came to Marquette as a graduate transfer from the University of Utah, he was thought to be a solid third option alongside two returning big men on this Golden Eagle squad.

Now, his team said it wouldn’t be anywhere near where it is today without him.

“If he’s not on our team, the mood in our locker room would be a heck of a lot different,” head coach Steve Wojciechowski said after the win against DePaul on Feb.1. “He’s been a consummate team player.”

Johnson’s impact has been felt in multiple areas on and off the court, with offensive rebounds being one of the most prevalent, redshirt senior Sacar Anim said after the win against St. John’s on Jan.21.

“He’s one of the best rebounders in the country, especially offensively,” Anim said. “He creates second shots for us, he can go up and create his own shot, get fouled or spray it out to shooters.”

Johnson did not make his season debut until the game at Wisconsin on Nov.17 due to suffering a knee injury the day before the team’s scrimmage against St. Norbert Oct. 29. He did not play double-digit minutes until the trip to Orlando. Now, he is the most important player off the bench for Marquette.

In 21 games this season, the Mission Viejo, California, native is averaging 3.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He ranks fourth on the team in rebounds with 108.

“With big guys and their knees it’s hard to miss time and come back quickly,” Wojciechowski said. “His return and his play have been so critical to our success this season, and he’s a big part of how well we’ve played recently.”

Johnson is tied for eighth in the BIG EAST for offensive rebounds per game at 2.0 and is 21st in the conference in total rebounds at 5.2. He is behind teammates Brendan Bailey with 5.5 and Koby McEwen with 5.4 on the total rebound list, but slightly ahead of fellow big man Theo John, who has 5.0.

Wojciechowski knew coming in that Johnson was going to be an important part of the team’s rebounding, among other facets, as he said at Media Day in November.

“He’s been an elite-level rebounder throughout his college career,” Wojciechowski said. “He’s a big physical rim protector and screen setter, and all of that will help us a lot.”

Marquette’s rim protection has been headlined by John for the past two seasons — deservingly so — as he is currently third in the BIG EAST averaging just under two a game. Despite averaging just 0.48 blocks per game, fellow seniors Anim and Markus Howard said Johnson has made an impact in that department as well.

“Jayce has had a great approach the last couple weeks,” Howard said after the win against St. John’s. “He really stepped up with his presence down low, his rebounding, his protection at the rim, as well as his finishing.”

Anim said it’s Johnson’s post-and-glass protecting presence that has made him be a big key piece for the Golden Eagles.

“He’s a rim protector, sets good screens and he’s a huge part of our team,” Anim said. “His play is a really key factor for us.”

Before the season, Johnson knew that he and the other bigs would be able to act as an insurance policy for guards on the defensive end.

“We’ll give the guards confidence to defend because they know that we have their back if they get drove on or shook,” Johnson said. “We’re there to block the shot and help, and then they can help us.”

Wojciechowski mentioned after the win against Villanova Jan. 4 that all three of his big men at the time were good at protecting the rim and that they needed to do a better job on the perimeter so that they did not always have to remain in the paint.

Shortly after that time, Johnson’s role became much larger, as a fellow big man in redshirt senior Ed Morrow left the program and was no longer a member of the team, leaving just John and Johnson as bigs down low.

Johnson has averaged 16.5 minutes per game compared to 12.2 per game before Morrow’s departure Jan. 15. Morrow’s absence is felt more when John or Johnson is in foul trouble, which is often.

John has had over three fouls in four of the eight games since Morrow’s absence, with Johnson having the same, including fouling out in the games against Georgetown Jan. 18 and DePaul Feb. 1.

Before the season it was thought that Marquette would frequently play with two bigs on the floor at one time in order to bolster the defense and rebounding.

“I enjoy having another big in the game,” Johnson said at Media Day. “It’s not gonna happen every game depending on matchups, but I think we’ll complement each other well.”

Johnson added that the competition in practice between John, Morrow and himself was making each of them better players and that they were “not going to allow anyone in the paint to score at the rim.”

While the two big man lineup has not come into fruition with Morrow leaving the program and John and Johnson typically subbing out when the other comes into the game, the two complement each other’s games. With either John or Johnson on the floor, Marquette always has a big in the game who will protect the rim.

Wojciechowski gave high praise to Johnson after the team’s win against DePaul.

“I don’t think anyone was bigger in the win than Jayce,” Wojciechowski said. “He’s been awesome, the extra hustle plays give such a burst of energy to our team.”

This article was written by Matt Yeazel. He can be reached at matthew.yeazel@marquette.edu or on Twitter @MJYeazel.