Coleman Johnson caught the ball just beyond the three-point arc on the left wing and knew he did not have much time. The 6-foot-6 senior forward is hardly an outside shooter — he takes so few three-point shots that he knew he was 0 for 2 before Sunday night.
But with top-ranked Paul VI Catholic trailing by three points at the end of the first overtime, Johnson knew he had to take the shot. The first three-pointer of his career tied the score with six seconds left and Johnson added the go-ahead basket in the second overtime. He finished with a career-high 33 points and 16 rebounds as the visiting Panthers edged second-ranked Gonzaga, 85-83, before a capacity crowd in Northwest Washington.
“I just got it up and my instincts took over — shoot the ball,” Johnson said. “Thankfully, it went in.”
With plenty of college coaches in attendance, it was a game full of brilliant performances. Gonzaga All-Met guard Nate Britt scored 18 of his career-high 35 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including the two free throws with 29 seconds left in regulation that tied it at 64 and forced extra play. Teammate Kris Jenkins had 28 points.
Nobody, though, played bigger than Johnson, a Fairfield recruit who passed the 1,000-point mark for his career. Even though he lacks the flash of teammates Stanford Robinson and Patrick Holloway, it was Johnson who was the Panthers’ most valuable player last season.
Johnson, who averages 11.8 points per game, was extremely active Sunday. He made several mid-range jumpers and was active around the basket. He also had a key assist in the first overtime, dribbling toward the basket then passing back out to Holloway for an open three-pointer.
“Coleman feeds everybody else,” Paul VI Coach Glenn Farello said. “He knows how to space and put himself into position to score.
“This group recognizes what’s available, and tonight we did a good job of penetrating and finding him because his man was in help. Coleman is an assassin in the 15- to 17-foot range.”
With the victory, Paul VI (23-2, 15-0) won its 11th consecutive game and moved closer to finishing first in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Gonzaga (22-4, 11-4) has lost consecutive games for the first time this season.
“It puts us in great position, obviously,” Farello said.