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MEC women's tournament: Johnson leads UC into semis

By CHUCK McGILL

DAILY MAIL SPORTS EDITOR

Kiara Johnson's double-double performance in the Mountain East Conference quarterfinals were personal bests at the University of Charleston, but she's posted those numbers before in her brief collegiate career.

This was the potential UC coach Adam Collins knew Johnson had when she transferred from Paine College to his women's basketball program in the offseason.

"What 'KJ' showed tonight is what she's going to be for a long period of time here," Collins said Thursday after his Golden Eagles ousted Urbana, 72-64, at the Charleston Civic Center.

Johnson's 15-point, 16-rebound breakout performance is one reason third-seeded Charleston (20-7) will be in Saturday's semifinals against second-seeded West Liberty (20-9).

The 6-foot-2 sophomore hit 5 of 7 shots and 5 of 10 free throws. Her rebounds were split evenly on the offensive and defensive end, and four of her five field goals came after an offensive rebound. Johnson, who entered Thursday afternoon's game averaging 5.1 points and a team-best 6.6 rebounds, had her second double-double of the season and eclipsed her previous season-highs in points (11) and rebounds (11).

She had six double-doubles at Paine last season, including two games with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds.

"I don't necessarily think it was the stage," Johnson said. "I feel like the whole season I've been struggling a little bit. I felt like, what better time to step up and do what I was recruited to do?"

That is, in essence, anchor the paint for UC. Against Urbana, the Golden Eagles held a 17-9 advantage on second-chance points. The eight-point disparity in that statistic mirrored the final margin of victory for UC.

"We won it on the physical side," said Collins, who this week was named the MEC Coach of the Year. "We won it with 'KJ' rebounding and scoring inside. I thought our play around the rim and inside the paint was phenomenal."

That individual performance, along with Tianna Kelly's defense, helped UC overcome Urbana in a game that featured 11 ties and 11 lead changes.

Kelly, a 5-11 senior, hounded Urbana leading scorer DeVonyea Johnson throughout the game. Johnson finished with her season average of 20 points, but 12 of those points came in the last 5:54 when UC's lead had ballooned to nine points, 53-44. Urbana (18-10) got within two points, 54-52, with 3:53 left of the second half, but the Golden Eagles again stretched its advantage to nine points with 51 seconds left.

Nichole Perry (12 points) and Chyress Lockhart (10) were UC's other players in double figures. Kelly scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and collected three steals.

"My personal opinion is Tianni is one of the most underrated players in the league," Collins said. "She does a lot of things that don't show up in the stat sheet. I think if you notice when DeVonyea Johnson did score her points it was when Tianni was not in the game or when she was not guarding her."

Johnson averaged 7.9 points and 11.5 rebounds last season for Paine, which helped her with the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Freshman of the Year award. She finished ninth in Division II in rebounding and 22nd in blocked shots.

In addition to her season-high in points and rebounds, Johnson had two blocks in a season-high 25 minutes.

"We see it sometimes in practice and we've seen it in some games," Collins said. "Tonight she was a focal point. We knew that's where we needed to go based on how they were guarding and she responded tremendously.

"She's more than capable and I think she's going to be a mainstay through the remainder of the tournament."


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