Johnson using momentum headed into first tourney

Photo Courtesy Helen Comer // DNJ

Photo Courtesy Helen Comer // Daily News Journal

Story by Tyler Lamb // Staff Writer

When it comes to the big stage, Middle Tennessee freshman forward Alex Johnson is no stranger.

Before she wore the blue and white, Johnson was a key piece of the Blackman Lady Blaze. She helped lead her team to two consecutive TSSAA Class AAA State Championships in 2014 and 2015.

Looking to add another ring to the collection, MTSU and Johnson teamed up for what has been a special season.

Coming onto the scene for the Lady Raiders, much was expected of Johnson.

“Coming out of Blackman, I was nervous,” Johnson said about her first few games. “Now, I feel like I’m still continuing to learn the system, but I’m more confident in my game, and just continuing to learn everything on the floor has really helped me along with my teammates.”

Johnson, for the only time this season, was not in the starting lineup against Alabama. After MTSU coach Rick Insell slotted her back into the starting lineup against Nevada the following game, Johnson responded.

Against the Wolf Pack, she had 20 points, five rebounds and two assists.

Since then, she hasn’t missed a start and has established herself as an elite, young C-USA forward.

“I would, honestly, be amazed,” Johnson said about whether she expected to receive such recognition prior to this season. “Not that I didn’t have the confidence in myself, because I did. But I know now that since I’m able to contribute, I have to continue to do that.”

Having earned C-USA Freshman of the Year, and most recently taking home the conference title with her team in Birmingham, Alabama, Johnson now looks to her biggest stage yet.

The NCAA tournament.

Saturday afternoon, the Lady Raiders face off against Florida State, a team that focuses on its inside game.

Seminoles forward Shakayla Thomas is averaging a team-high 17 points to lead Florida State.

Thomas’ FSU counterpart, 6-foot-4 senior Adut Bulgak, is averaging 12.7 points per game, while bringing down eight rebounds per game.

While Johnson and the Blue Raiders are undersized, Johnson is entering her first tournament game with the confidence to win.

“I feel that if we play like we did against Old Dominion and crash both the offensive and defensive boards as hard as we did, we’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “Gabby [Lyon] had 13 rebounds. So if she does that and I’m able to contribute along with the guards and we just continue to crash hard with them, we’ll be able to come out on top to stop their transition game.

“The biggest thing is really just pushing those nerves aside and just going out and knowing that we have the confidence to beat anybody in the tournament.”

Johnson and the Lady Raiders take on the Seminoles Saturday afternoon at 12:35 p.m. CT at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.

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