Both Theodore Roosevelt and West Charlotte’s benches cleared during the third quarter of Monday’s Martin Luther King Hoopfest contest at Coolidge High School, and in the middle of the skirmish was Rough Riders’ guard Johnnie Shuler. He was pulling teammates back, and when officials regained control and play resumed about 10 minutes later, it was the junior putting his index finger to his temple, trying to tell teammates to be smarter.
Shuler was calm, cool and everything in between during No. 4 Roosevelt’s 60-58 win over the national power from North Carolina. All eyes were on the Lions’ Kennedy Meeks, one of the country’s top rated centers who has signed with North Carolina – but the slender Shuler stole the show. The DeMatha transfer scored 15 points, dished out six assists, and made a string of crucial plays down the stretch.
“I approached it as a regular game to me, but the game was huge,” Shuler said. “Huge for the program.”
With his team down one and about four minutes remaining, Shuler also drew a charge in the lane that swung the possession and the game. A few minutes later, with the score tied at 52 and Theodore Roosevelt’s sideline instructing the team to play keep-away and run the clock, Shuler’s ball-handling and evasive passing in the backcourt frustrated West Charlotte to the point that Meeks came out to the perimeter to pressure the ball, and committed his fifth foul. With Meeks done for the night, Roosevelt took control in the final three minutes, and with five seconds left, Shuler nailed two free throws that extended the Rough Riders’ lead to 60-56 and sealed the win.
“(The coaches) told me to slow it down, and get everybody involved in the offense,” said Shuler, who hit three three-pointers and scored seven points in the fourth quarter. “And then they just told me to start shooting the ball, so I started shooting, and it started falling in.”
The performance came in front of a number of college scouts, and after the game, Shuler nodded to the fact that he hoped he had put on a show. Seton Hall has been showing interest since he was a freshman at DeMatha, Shuler said, and is the “hottest” right now. He added that Miami, Nebraska, Radford and Quinnipiac have also been in contact – a list that is likely to grow as the unbeaten Rough Riders (14-0) continue their remarkable run this winter.
“I’m just growing,” Shuler said. “Growing more as a leader.”
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