Johnson takes over late to propel State past Vandy

Markell Johnson scores 12 straight points to help Wolfpack pull away for an 80-65 victory

Markell Johnson drives to the basket during a game earlier this season (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

MIAMI (AP) — Markell Johnson kept getting to the rim down the stretch, and the NC State Wolfpack showed they can finish.

Johnson scored 12 consecutive points down in a late three-minute span to break open a close game, and the Wolfpack beat Vanderbilt 80-65 Saturday.

State (7-1) bounced back from its first loss of the season Tuesday at Wisconsin.

“At the end of the Wisconsin game, I don’t think we handled it well,” coach Kevin Keatts said. “So for the last couple of days we’ve been talking about end-of-the-game situations. Markell was very aggressive and made the right plays. I never thought we showed any panic — 72 hours ago we wouldn’t have been the same team.”

Johnson penetrated several times in a row to help transform a 60-58 lead into a 72-61 advantage.

“I was seeing the lanes open up and trying to take the best shot I could,” he said.

The junior point guard finished with 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 26 minutes.

“I think he’s their best player,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “He’s excellent at driving left, and unfortunately we let him drive left too many times the last seven minutes.”

The Commodores (5-2), still reeling from freshman Darius Garland’s season-ending knee injury last week, lost for the second time in three games.

“Darius is a big part of our team,” Vandy forward Simi Shittu said. “We’re going to go through this and move.”

The game was part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational, a four-team, one-day event at the Heat’s arena.

The Wolfpack never trailed and built an 11-point lead midway through the first half. Sophomore reserve D.J. Funderburk scored a career-high 16 points, all in the first half.

Vanderbilt closed to within 60-58 and had three shots to tie but never erased their deficit.

Shittu and Saben Lee had 15 points apiece for Vanderbilt. The Commodores, who made 56 3-pointers in their first six games, went 3 for 22 from beyond the arc.

“There were some bad shots,” Drew said. “That’s why some guys came out of the game after they shot them.”

Torin Dorn finished with 10 points and seven rebounds for the Wolfpack, who enjoyed a 46-33 rebounding edge.


Helped by Funderburk, State’s bench outscored Vanderbilt 37-21 and has outscored opponents 260-113 this season.


The game drew a tiny crowd, with the Wolfpack bench making the most noise.

“That’s the last thing we said before we took the floor — there’s nobody out there, so we have to be our own spark, our own energy,” Dorn said. “That’s something we pride ourselves on.”